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SIUE Chancellor On OVC Football: "It Will Not Be Me Who Brings Football Here"
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — If Southeast Missouri State was looking for ways to improve the profile of its athletic program in the St. Louis market, it now has a foil.
Or an ally.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will become the Ohio Valley Conference’s 11th member when it is formally admitted July 1. The announcement was made Tuesday morning in front of a crowd of about 100 people at the Morris University Center on the SIUE campus.
Edwardsville is located about 25 miles from St. Louis. The university has approximately 40,000 alumni living in the St. Louis area, according to university officials’ estimates.
Southeast Missouri State, which counts approximately 18,000 alums in St. Louis and previously had been the OVC school closest to the metropolitan market, was advised to tap into the region from a marketing and recruiting standpoint in a review of the athletics department completed earlier this year by Carr Sports Associates.
Southeast president Dr. Kenneth Dobbins, who also serves as chair of the OVC’s university presidents committee, believes the addition of SIUE helps Southeast’s standing in the market.
“I believe that when we go to SIU Edwardsville, we’ll have a full house,” Dobbins said, “and when they come to our place, we’ll have a full house. And they’re going to bring some pretty decent teams with them. It’s like a Carbondale, or Murray. They’re all full houses because they’re rivalries.
“I think it’s going to be good for us.”
He added that the opportunity for Southeast to compete regularly in the St. Louis region could open the door for alumni events to be tied in with athletic events.
But the addition of SIUE may have Southeast coaches on their toes. The Carr report, noting that 50 percent of Southeast’s student body comes from the St. Louis region, said “coaches should make every effort to successfully recruit” St. Louis “to strengthen regional ties, save on recruiting expenses and gain media exposure.”
Dobbins said he didn’t think SIUE’s addition, which will take effect for regular-season play in all sports in 2011-12 and postseason play the following year, would make that task more difficult.
“The coaches will have to go head to head, but the students will know what the Ohio Valley Conference is now,” Dobbins said. “That’s a positive thing, and actually it might help us with football recruiting because they don’t have a football team, yet people will know what the Ohio Valley Conference is.”
SIU Edwardsville will be the only school not to field a football team, though Morehead State plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer Football League. The lack of a football program had been a sticking point until the university presidents voted in January to look at admitting new member schools that didn’t play football.
“One of the things I said to the commissioner is, ‘We’ve got to look at not just football; we’ve got to look at everything,’ because we want a league that is a solid athletic league,” Dobbins said.
SIUE offers 18 sports — three more than Southeast — and boasts 17 national championships, including a Division II softball title in 2007. It won a men’s soccer national championship in Division I in 1979. The school will have to find different conference affiliations for that sport and wrestling, which are not sponsored by the OVC.
SIUE essentially replaces Samford, the institution in Birmingham, Ala., which had been the conference’s only private school. It is returning to the Southern Conference after five years in the OVC.
The conference, at least until SIUE gains full Division I membership, will have Texas-Pan American competing in only the men’s outdoor track championships to give the conference enough schools — six — to qualify athletes for the NCAA championship series. An OVC spokesman said that relationship could continue past the four years or it could end at that time if Pan American joins another conference.
SIUE will be fast-tracked in softball, and should be able to compete for OVC and tournament titles in 2010-11.
But SIUE chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift said football is not a likely addition any time soon.
“It would probably be some chancellor in the future that would bring football here; it will not be this one,” Vandegrift said to applause during the news conference.
OVC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the conference will continue to search for a 12th member, a number that could lead to divisional play for the basketball programs.
“We will still be very deliberate in how we do that,” Steinbrecher said. “We’re not going to add just for the sake of adding. We’ll add when someone fits with us philosophically, programmatically, and if they can make us a better conference.”
Steinbrecher said that expansion likely would take place within the current geographic footprint. He was pleased with how that footprint looked after Tuesday’s announcement.
“We’ve had decent coverage in this market before, which is remarkable considering we didn’t have a team in this market,” Steinbrecher said. “I think this will only enhance that. We need for Eastern Illinois, SIU Edwardsville, Southeast to be very strong because obviously the media is going to cover a compelling story, and normally that means winning.”
Vandegrift expects his school to do its part on the new stage.
“We fully understand that this is a great market for SEMO, and also Eastern Illinois and, to some degree, Murray State and Martin and [Austin] Peay,” Vandegrift said, “and we may take a few lumps, but that’s what’s important in the development of great rivalries and the development of the conference. We’re looking forward to developing rivalries.”
Addition helps open St. Louis market
By Toby Carrig, The Southeast Missourian