Thursday, June 26, 2008

OVC ... further movement?

The Ohio Valley Conference looked to be standing pat after losing Samford to the Southern Conference, effective this fall. Samford's departure left the OVC at 10 teams, which seemed to be a good number after the screwy basketball schedule an 11-team league produced.
Enter Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, an athletic program making the move up from the Division II ranks. SIU-E puts the OVC back at 11 teams, effective for the 2009-10 school year, fueling speculation the league is back in the market for a 12th school, which would allow it to form two six-team divisions in some sports.

So who is the 12th team? It's anybody's guess.

At the moment, an unattached Division I school in this part of the country doesn't seem to exist, and the NCAA has implemented a four-year moratorium on such moves.

That renders moot the speculation on Northern Kentucky, which was SIU-E's rival in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and had some basketball success in Division II — the school's women's team just won the national championship, beating a South Dakota team on its way to Division I.

Northern Kentucky conducted a feasibility schedule three years ago to make a Division I, school officials said, and opted to remain in Division II.

Talk abounds that North Alabama is exploring a similar move, but the NCAA moratorium negates that possibility.

So who could it be? Central Arkansas recently aligned with the Southland. Kennesaw State in Georgia is in the Atlantic Sun.

Lipscomb and Belmont, both based in Nashville, would be perfect geographic fits, but they seem comfortable in the Atlantic Sun and, as private schools, would be fish-out-of-water in the OVC.

One other possibility is East Tennessee State, which left the OVC for the Southern in the late 1970s but might be open for a change, especially after it dropped football a few years ago.

Tragedy in Crittenden County ...

The news of the sudden, mysterious death of 12-year-old Jake Hodge, the son of Crittenden County baseball coach Denis Hodge and girls' basketball coach Shannon Hodge, was a jolt to anyone in the community ... and indeed, anyone who is a parent.

By all accounts, Jake Hodge was a fine athlete and the picture of health. He died in his sleep sometime Saturday morning, and an autopsy has been unable to determine the cause of death. Some tests are pending, but a real possibility exists that the Hodge family will never know exactly what killed their son and brother.

"It's a tragedy," said Chris Evans, editor and publisher of The Crittenden Press newspaper and a former Paducah Sun sports writer. "This is a community that's been devastated. Denis and Shannon are first-class people, coaches who do it for the right reasons. They're as competitive as anyone, but they teach their kids about life as much as they do coach a sport."

Indeed, both Hodges had years to remember. Shannon Hodge took Crittenden to the All A Classic state tournament, knocking off higher-seeded teams in regional play. Less than a month ago, Denis Hodge led the baseball team to a Second Region tournament win over favored Hopkinsville, the school's first such win in 31 years.

"Everyone here knows them, and we're all in shock," Evans said. "There were 1,200 people at the funeral (in the high school gym) and about 2,500 signed the register. Jake was a great kid, and he probably would have been one of the best athletes to ever come through here."