For years, many within the HBCU sports world have believed that Tennessee State residing in the Ohio Valley Conference was never a good cultural or economic fit for a program.
Mikki Allen, the TSU athletic director, said recently that he envisions the football program leaving the OVC and making a move to the FBS in the near future.
“I have a goal for this program to eventually become an FBS program and to do that we have to make the enhancements in terms of our facility profile and our competition venues,” Allen told The Tennessean. “We’re bolstering resource investments in our coaching staff and then when you look at exposure, conference exposure is paramount. That has a lot to do with recruiting. We want to put a fence around our talent here in Tennessee, but the conference exposure comes from your neighbors as well. Out of conference markets have a lot to do with attendance and putting butts in seats so we’re looking at all those things.”
HBCU Sports Exclusive: Interview with Tennessee State athletics director Dr. Mikki Allen
Tennessee State has been a member of the OVC since 1988. The conference has only six-football playing schools after several schools defected from the league in recent years. Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, Murray State and Belmont have either left or are planning to leave.
“We’ve definitely been open to hearing other conferences, Allen told HBCU Sports in a interview last April, adding that the Big South and A-Sun approached Tennessee State about joining their leagues.
Allen’s comments come weeks after head coach Eddie George called the OVC “a dying conference” on the 1 Star Recruits Podcast. “… at some point, we’re going to have to take into account our future and do what’s best for Tennessee State.”
Allen also said that the hope is another HBCU could join the OVC, though several Black colleges — such as Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T and Hampton — have joined the likes of the SWAC, Big South and Colonial Athletic Association.
Inside the HBCU Sports Lab host Dr. Kenyatta Cavil tweeted the SWAC reached out to Tennessee State to gauge its interest in joining its 12-school conference.
TSU has not been part of a predominately HBCU conference since it was in the now defunct Midwestern Conference that included Kentucky State, Jackson State and Grambling State among others.
“That would be huge for Tennessee State,” he said about an HBCU considering the OVC. “I would love to see HBCUs come into the OVC. That would be phenomenal if that were to happen, but it hasn’t.”