Not so long ago, a number of the Media Geniuses, including this one, were wondering if the folks at Belmont had gone six or seven bubbles off plumb in their quest to swim in the big NCAA pond.
Now, lo and behold, it’s the Bruins who look like the geniusesfresh off a winning season in their marquee sport, basketball; with one of Tennessee’s best hoops coaches signed to a fresh, four-year contract this week; and with a fan base that is bound to increase.
Thanks to Belmont’s leap, there wasn’t much second-guessing at all when the neighbors down the Boulevard at David Lipscomb announced that they, too, plan to jump through the looking glass.
By this time, Lipscomb’s leap to the NCAA had acquired a certain inevitability. The Campbellites needed to keep up with the Baptists. And the Lipscombites wanted to keep Don Meyer, their prized basketball coach who had signaled, by his flirtation with Vanderbilt and dalliance with Pepperdine, that he wanted to coach a Division I program.
If Belmont was Lewis and Clark, Lipscomb is the Union Pacifica well-equipped successor to the trailblazers. In some ways, DLU’s gambit seems less risky than Belmont’s. Like their once and perhaps future rivals, the Bisons have strong men’s and women’s basketball programs. But they also enjoy a potentially stronger base of fan support, and they already hold a commitment from the administration to enhance their program’s stature with a much larger new gymnasium.
What’s especially intriguing is that Lipscomb’s move poetically restores equilibrium to the local basketball scene. Before Belmont went big-time, its basketball rivalry with Lipscomb drew attention even from Sports Illustrated. Now, maybe, the well-attended and fiercely contested “Battles of the Boulevard” will resume.
Which brings us to a radically off-kilter idea now being aired among the local punditry and elsewhere: As soon as practicable, the Ohio Valley Conference should whip out the good stationery and send the two Nashville schools an invitation to join their league.
From the get-go, you can imagine all of the objections.
Belmont and Lipscomb don’t play football. Well, neither do some of the gridderless members of several high-profile conferences (at least they don’t play Division I football). The Big East, for example, includes Georgetown, Connecticut, and St. John’s. The SEC has Vand...(sorry). Anyway, you get the point.
Belmont and Lipscomb can’t compete equally with the bigger public schools. Never mind that little Belmont kicked the big public hineys of OVC members MTSU and Tennesse State, and came within one minute of busting Murray State on the road. Within three years of joining the NCAA, it’s not unreasonable to expect that Meyer could lead Lipscomb to perform just as competitively.
Belmont and Lipscomb can’t attract NCAA-caliber crowds. OK, this is the tallest hurdle the two schools face, but it’s far from insurmountable. Having Belmont, Lipscomb, and TSU in the same league, in the same city, would create not only terrific rivalries, but synergies too.
As with the old “Big Four” of Philadelphia, attendance would shoot up whenever these three played one another. Suddenly, the OVC would become much more interesting to residents of the conference’s largest media marketespecially during the annual basketball tournament here.
With apologies to our friends in Murfreesboro, adding two more Nashville teams would make the OVC less podunky. Besides, when was the last time you heard of an NCAA-caliber crowd for Morehead State and SEMO?
What’s most impressive about John Elway’s career are the 48that’s 40 plus eightcome-from-behind victories he engineered. But years from now, I’ll probably remember only two: The last-minute, length-of-the-field drive in 1986 in Cleveland that put Denver in the Super Bowl, and the gritty, head-flipping march that gave the Broncos the lead against Green Bay in the Super Bowl two years ago.
Similarly, what’s most impressive about Wayne Gretzky is a statistic: Take away all of his hundreds of goals, and he would still be the all-time NHL points leader on the strength of his assists alone. But what I’ll remember is simply the sight of him playing and the genius of his passing and stick-handling.
Cal Ripken, who may join Elway and Gretzky in retirement, will be remembered for one heroic accomplishment. But what I’ll mention to my grandchildren is that I saw him play, in person, on one ordinary night when no records were set and the Streak wasn’t yet long enough for anyone to notice.
At their retirement, many hailed Gretzky and Elway as the greatest of all time. But maybe that’s a myth. Maybe they are only the greatest of our time. And maybe that’s why we claim them as such heroic figures.
Those born too young to have seen DiMaggio or Williams can marvel at their records and watch a few faded films. But they can only imagine what it was like, in the summer before Pearl Harbor, to follow the Yankee Clipper’s hitting streak or watch the Splendid Splinter close in on .400. They can merely hear of it from their elders, who considered DiMaggio and Williams the best of all time. And those elders, in their turn, must have heard from their grandfathers, “Oh, but you should have seen Cobb and Hornsby.”
The careers of Gretzky, Elway, and Ripken may well stand for more than 50 years. But their lustre can’t help but fade by then.
By then, they’ll belong to our time. We saw them.