Don't Expect ETSU to Follow Belmont's Lead Out of the A-Sun

Marky BillsonContributor IApril 6, 2017

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 19:  The East Tennessee State University Buccaneers mascot Bucky performs during the first round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats at Nationwide Arena on March 19, 2004 in Columbus, Ohio.  The Bearcats won 80-77.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Belmont University's decision to leave the Atlantic Sun Conference for the Ohio Valley Conference may have taken East Tennessee State and the rest of their league brethren by surprise, but don't look for the Buccaneers to leave the conference for greener pastures.

Yes, the departure of the Bruins will completely destroy all the gains the Atlantic Sun Conference has made in the men's basketball RPI ratings.

Yes, the conference figures to continue to lose members with Kennesaw State adding football.

And yes, the ETSU athletic department will eventually try to find a way to spin this into a positive.

Here's how. Without Belmont, it just became much easier for the Buccaneers to make the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

True, the seeding will suffer and ETSU Sports Information Director Mike White's boast the A-Sun has never had a team in the play-in game almost assuredly will be over, but without Belmont, ETSU figures to be the class of the conference in men's basketball.

Second, outside of men's basketball, Belmont brought very little prestige to the conference.

And at ETSU, where under athletic director David Mullins, men's basketball has been less of a premier showcase sport and more a fraction of the overall athletic department, their philosophy figures to be Belmont's departure is no great loss.

Consider since joining the A-Sun, ETSU has built facilities that don't necessarily satisfy fan want, but rather A-Sun need.

Ergo, ETSU has built or is building new facilities for soccer, softball, and baseball, but their 12,000-seat basketball arena has become an embarrassment, with fire codes prohibiting the Bucs from allowing crowds of more than half-capacity inside and is left to rot.

The fact that a week's worth of games for all three of those sports will not equal the crowd at one ETSU men's basketball game is irrelevant to the mindset of the Mullins athletic administration.

Since becoming athletic director in 2003, Mullins has guided the athletic department almost as if he was instituting payback to ETSU's spectator sports for all those years he spent as a tennis coach when he received no attention.

And if the fans don't like it, and considering ETSU men's basketball attendance is currently at its lowest point since 2001 they don't, so be it.

Incidentally, ETSU had the opportunity to move to the Ohio Valley Conference themselves in 2008, but a 22-member panel unanimously rejected a move based on a presentation given to them by Mullins.

Does this really sound like an athletic director looking for another conference or wanting to change the status quo?

Speaking of ETSU turning down the OVC, let us not forget that on the day ETSU decided to do so, sports talk show host and then-ETSU women's basketball play-by-play broadcaster Don Helman asked Mullins, point blank, on his morning talk show about a potential move.

Mullins did not mention that a staff meeting would be held that afternoon to decide on the Bucs' future conference affiliation, instead giving a lengthy, cliché-filled answer to Helman's question.

So you'll forgive ETSU fans if they don't have much sympathy for Mullins complaint that nobody at Belmont told the rest of the conference they were looking at the OVC.

If he wasn't willing to be forthcoming to his own announcer three years ago, why should he expect Bruins Athletic Director Mike Strickland to be forthcoming to him?

Besides, how could the Bruins consider such a move and nobody in the Atlantic Sun realize it?

Bucs fans may dream of the day their program can rise out of the A-Sun to a superior basketball conference, if not a resurrection of the football program cut immediately after Mullins took over as athletic director.

But if the past eight years have been any indication, the move of Belmont to the OVC was merely music to the ETSU athletic department's ears.