With WKU’s move to Conference USA, the school will keep some current rivalries as well as resurrect old ones.
With the announcement of WKU leaving the Sun Belt Conference on July 1, 2014, the Toppers will continue their annual play with current Sun Belt opponents Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, and their biggest rival, Middle Tennessee.
Along with that, the school will see familiar foes in Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, and UAB, all of which were previous Sun Belt opponents.
Dating back to pre-Sun Belt, WKU will reunite with Marshall. The two schools were founding members of the Ohio Valley Conference in 1948.
WKU president Gary Ransdell acknowledged the school’s competition from years past and said holding close to rivalries was one of the incentives for the conference change.
“We look forward to renewing our rich Lady Topper history with Old Dominion and Louisiana Tech — to rekindling our conference history of great games in men’s basketball with UNC-Charlotte and Alabama Birmingham,” Ransdell said.
WKU and Southern Mississippi saw each other on the football field and the basketball court in 2012, and Ransdell noted that the two are scheduled to play in Diddle next season, but this time it will be the last time they face each other outside of C-USA.
“Rivalries are what make intercollegiate athletics so fun,” Ransdell said. “You want them to be constructed, you want them to be positive, you want them to be high energy, and that’s what these have been over the years. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to renew some of those and sustain some of the one’s we’re enjoying right now.”
Ransdell joked with the crowd with a rhetorical question asking who was the athletic director at Old Dominion, which happens to be former WKU AD Wood Selig (1999-2010)
Lady Topper basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard knows all too well about old rivalries in women’s basketball. Heard said she is excited to prepare her program for C-USA as well as teach them about the traditions that women’s basketball holds with a few schools in the conference.
“I’m excited to be able to have the opportunity to go into this conference with my team and educate them on the old rivalries and what’s going to be new,” Heard said.
Heard specifically recalled her sophomore year at WKU and the conference championship game against Old Dominion, and reminisced the memories of playing UNC-Charlotte
“We went nail-to-nail, wire-to-wire,” Heard said. “Every time we played each other we competed and played so hard. Same thing with Charlotte, it was just great basketball and great tradition.”
Ransdell said the time in the Sun Belt was enjoyable, but that the time is right for the school to make a move to establish new rivalries for many years to come.
“We honor and treasure our previous peers in the OVC and in the Sun Belt – great institutions, great friends,” Ransdell said. “But I’m really excited about the company we will keep in Conference USA.”