The college basketball world was shocked on December 23rd when Belmont University upset the Missouri Tigers 71-67 on Missouri's home court. I was on a message board that night when someone posted that Belmont was leading Missouri late in the second half and, at first, I erroneously thought the team in question was Belmont Abbey. Belmont Abbey is the school near Charlotte where Al McGuire started his coaching career. Others on the board at the time thought the same thing.
Belmont held on for the win, so I decided to find out more about this school which had made such an abrupt entry into the basketball scene so I went to the internet. Lo and behold, Belmont University is not Belmont Abbey but Belmont University, located near Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. where I worked for several years in the late 60s. I knew several Belmont graduates and seems like I remember that Vanderbilt, Peabody University and Belmont shared the same library but I had heard nothing about Belmont athletics. Gosh, that's been a long time ago and as I try to remember, I'm not sure whether it was Belmont or Lipscomb College that shared the library. I do know that Vanderbilt entered into an agreement with Peabody whereby football players would attend Peabody academically but would be allowed to play for Vanderbilt. Now that's being creative.
The game with Missouri was Belmont University's (changed from college to University in 1990) sixth game against a top 25 team and the first time it had met with success. They are a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference which has such teams as Mercer, Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic, Georgia State and others and will host the ASC tournament in 2004 in their new state of the art playing facility which was dedicated at the beginning of this season. They played the initial game against Vanderbilt before a sold out crowd of over 5,000 which would make it about the size of Woollen Gym. Belmont has approximately 3600 students from all 50 states and has approximately 14,000 living alumni.
Incidentally, they lost to Vanderbilt 74-59 but that is no disgrace since Vanderbilt is top 25 and undefeated, I believe.
Notable alumni of Belmont include Sarah Cannon (Minnie Pearl), Clare Booth Luce, the founder of Vogue Magazine and Lila Wallace who, along with her husband, founded Reader's Digest.
Belmont began as a female junior college and was the first junior college in the South to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Louisburg College in North Carolina must not have been accredited initially because I have always been told that Louisburg was the first Junior College in the South and if I am not mistaken, there is a historical marker in Louisburg which attests to this fact.
Apparently Belmont is making a move to the big time in basketball because earlier this year they played Memphis in Memphis and lost 83-89 and beat the Air Force Academy. They are scheduled to play Navy before beginning their conference schedule. Two games with Georgia State and one with Lipscomb are scheduled to be televised and they have now scheduled radio broadcasts for their games.
One of the strange things I discovered when trying to research Belmont is that there is more than one Belmont College, in addition to Belmont Abbey. Another Belmont exists in California. Sort of like St. Johns. I believe there are four of them. I imagine I wasn't the only one confused when the Missouri score was posted. Now, the irony of the situation is that Belmont is going to find it more difficult to schedule games with the "name teams" because the word will go out. "You better not play them because no one has heard of them so if you beat them, so what. And they might beat you." This is what happened years ago when Virginia Commonwealth University here in Richmond was trying to establish its program under Chuck Noe. They upset Minnesota and the name teams avoided them from that point on. Same thing happened to East Carolina when their football program was at its zenith. Remember when they finished 8th in the final polls and lost only three games all season long. All of the losses were to Florida teams by less than a touchdown each, Miami, Florida and Florida State. Its much easier to make progress when you are starting from a low position than it is to advance after having gained a degree of respectability. Its rather crowded up near the top.