NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Belmont University, a steady presence in the NCAA basketball tourney, is leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference and joining the Ohio Valley Conference effective in the 2012-2013 academic year, the school announced Friday.
Belmont has been in the NCAA basketball tournament four times in the last five years, losing in the first round each time. This year the Bruins finished 30-5 overall and lost to Wisconsin as a 13th seed. They nearly upset Duke in 2008, losing 71-70.
Basketball coach Rick Byrd said the move could improve Belmont's chances in future NCAA tourneys. OVC teams have won three straight first-round tourney games, which he said helps the reputation of the league.
"But you have to elevate your own program," he said.
Belmont officials said the Nashville school is joining the OVC by invitation and will save travel expenses in the process. Seven OVC schools are in Tennessee or Kentucky. The A-Sun conference has teams as far away as Florida and South Carolina.
Dr. Robert C. Fisher, Belmont's president, said the university will pay a $200,000 fee to leave the A-Sun, "but you don't have to get on a plane to go anywhere ... and the students won't have to miss as many classes."
Belmont has been in the A-Sun for 10 years. The winner of the league tourney, like the OVC, gets an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Other league teams rarely get at-large bids.
OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche said the addition of Belmont "is a hallmark day for us."
"We were a great league yesterday and a greater league today," she told a news conference at the school.
DeBauche said the OVC has a three-year deal with ESPN for basketball broadcasts, and the new school "helps us in our footprint."
Belmont, a private college in Nashville with an enrollment of about 5,900, has teams in 17 sports but has no plans to add a football team, an OVC sport.
"The OVC doesn't need us in football," Fisher said.
Byrd said he's impressed with the caliber of basketball in the OVC, which is based in suburban Nashville.
"They have a long history of great teams," he said. "This is a great move."
Belmont officials said they hope to continue their games with fellow Nashville school Lipscomb, an A-Sun member some two miles down Belmont Boulevard. Their annual rivalry is known as "the battle of the boulevard."