When Tennessee State University joined the Ohio Valley Conference in 1988, it was widely hailed as a breakthrough and positive step for an HBCU. The Tigers had been an independent between 1916 and 1987, but the move was seen by many as a smart strategic one because it provided a way for the Tigers to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth in basketball, challenge for a national title in football on a lower level, and save money on transportation costs because the trips were predominantly either local or regional.

But there’s now widespread discussion and sentiment that it’s time for TSU to abandon the OVC. Their track record in OVC competition includes two Football Championships, two Men’s Basketball Championships, three Women’s Basketball Championships, five Indoor Track Championships, three Outdoor Track Championships, and two Volleyball Championships. There’s also women’s softball, though the baseball program ended in 1993.

The OVC is losing schools left and right, with Belmont, Austin Peay and Murray State the latest to leave. Even more importantly, the OVC is losing stature and visibility in football, a sport that TSU Athletics Director Dr. Mikki Allen has publicly stated his desire for TSU to become an FBS school. That’s not going to happen if TSU remains in the OVC. Head coach Eddie George told the 1StarRecruits podcast that the time may be here for the school to look elsewhere. 

“We’re going into a different time and age,” George said during the podcast. “For us now, obviously, with Tennessee State, we are seeking to go to a conference that has more stability. The OVC, it’s a dying conference at this point in time. “But we can continue to stay hopeful that [OVC] leadership will pick up and continue to add teams. But at some point, we’re going to have to take in to account our future and do what’s best for Tennessee State.”

The OVC’s latest expansion will see Lindenwood University. the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Southern Indiana join Eastern Illinois, Morehead State, Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, TSU, Tennessee Tech and UT-Martin in the new-look 10-member OVC. Whatever else one thinks about that new alignment, it’s hardly ideal for bigtime football exposure, something George and Dr. Allen clearly want.

Meanwhile, there are those who don’t want TSU to follow the example of some recent HBCUs and join another Power 5 conference. Instead, these folks feel its time for TSU to rejoin an HBCU conference. An online petition at change.org urges the Tigers to join the  Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). That conference includes Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Bethune Cookman, FAMU, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley, Alcorn State, Univ. of Arkansas PB, Grambling, Prairie View, Southern, and Texas Southern. 

Some have also suggested TSU join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) which currently includes Coppin State University, Delaware State University, Howard University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina Central University, South Carolina State University. 

In addition, there’s a push to restart the baseball program, something that would dovetail with another George idea: putting a new stadium for either an expansion or relocated Major League Baseball team on the TSU campus. 

The Nashville-based Music City Baseball has already publicly floated the idea, with George being one of the supporters for this idea.

“Eddie has been my partner as the real estate advisor as long as we’ve been evaluating sites, and when Eddie made his commitment (to be TSU’s football coach) and TSU made its’ commitment to Eddie, it just really opened our eyes and made the connection obvious,” Music City Baseball executive director John Loar told USA Today Tennessee recently, 

Loar said the stadium could include expansion of TSU’s student housing, along with research, development and other educational opportunities, the newspaper reported. “The opportunity to preserve history by creating history is really important to us,” Loar said. “The connection we have with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the fact that TSU is a historical(ly) black college and university-led us to ask does this makes sense for the community, does it makes sense for TSU, does it make sense for us?”

So there’s plenty to consider for TSU in the near future. But the key issue for now remains conference affiliation.