Belmont is leaving the Atlantic Sun for the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012-13, and it's a move that helps the Nashville-based program geographically while boosting the profile of the Bruins, who have reached the NCAA tournament under longtime coach Rick Byrd in four of the past six seasons.
In his 25th season with Belmont, Byrd's team was 30-5 while smashing its Atlantic Sun opponents. The Bruins' reward was a No. 13 seed and an opening-round loss to Wisconsin, so going to the OVC could help them get over the hump in future postseasons.
Another thing Byrd has going for him? The support of country music star Vince Gill, who has been a longtime fan of the program's after the two became friends. Gill has consistently made contributions to the school and was honored Saturday at the school in the form of an honorary degree.
Gill received an honorary Doctorate of Humanities at the school's commencement ceremonies, and, in turn, said Byrd had helped him succeed as well.
I never in my wildest dreams thought that a day like this could happen… In all honesty I was hoping that this [doctorate] would be in friendship. That’s the single reason I stand before you today-- and that's because of your head basketball coach, Rick Byrd.
I met Rick on a golf course. I was making records at that point but couldn't prove it because no one owned them. He was coaching basketball, but he couldn't prove it then because no one came to the games. It's easily been one of the best friendships I ever had.
Since that meeting, Gill went on to become a Bruins fan, win Grammy Awards and be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Byrd has won 518 games at Belmont, and the two continue to share a close friendship.
With the program headed to the OVC after next season, the Bruins appear ready to take the next step. Byrd has led them there while Gill has provided his support. It's been a nice collaboration.