Ever since Lipscomb and Belmont played their first basketball game in 1953, they’ve been rivals. With the two schools being on the same street just a couple miles away, it was practically inevitable.
However, looking back over the history of Lipscomb athletics, you’ll find more than just Lipscomb-Belmont.
They were instead, other schools in town.
“In the 1950s, East Tennessee State was a huge rival for David Lipscomb College,” said Andy Lane, associate athletic director.
In those games, the team would actually get on a train and head to east Tennessee to play. Now, both teams are in the Atlantic Sun, so the fire is still there, but Lane says it was a lot different then.
What most students don’t know is that the Trevecca Nazarene game was that game to be at. Known as the “Bleacher Creatures” during the ’80s, Lipscomb fans would pack both McQuiddy and Trevecca’s Trojan Field House so much that actions had to be taken to prevent from breaking any laws.
“In McQuiddy, the fans were right on top of you,” Lady Bisons head coach Frank Bennett says.
“Those games were as intense as any we have ever had,” Lane says.
Communications professor Jimmy McCollum recalls one game where the fire marshal forced Lipscomb to shut the doors on the gym because it had reached maximum capacity.
“We had what I believe was a perfect storm for rivalries,” McCollum said. “We had a small gym, we had an excellent team consistently ranked in the top 5 or 10 across the nation in the NAIA and we had not only one but two local rivals in Belmont and Trevecca.”
It was not until the ’80s and ’90s that the real “Battle of the Boulevard” began. In the two teams’ 128 meetings, Lipscomb has won 72 and Belmont 56.
It’s obvious that home-court advantage plays a role, too.
When games are played on Lipscomb’s campus, the Bisons’ record is 45-20. When played on the other side of the Boulevard, the Bisons are 28-29.
Those numbers don’t add up to 128 because the teams have met at neutral sites in conference tournament games and at Memorial Gym on Vanderbilt’s campus.
“It’s sort of one of those historical moments,” Lane said of the games at Vanderbilt. “In the ’90s, we had a standing-room-only crowd.”
The women’s team also played those games at Vandy. And according to Coach Bennett, those were some of the best games of his 31-year career at Lipscomb.
“We had over 7,000 [fans] at one game at Vanderbilt,” the former NAIA Coach of the Year said.
In the ’80s and early ’90s, Lipscomb was a member of the Trans South conference along with Cumberland, Trevecca, Union and Freed-Hardeman. Bennett says that those games were a lot more likely to have big crowds because of the short distance between the schools.
“You may play teams from Orlando and Atlanta now,” Bennett said. “But we used to play Cumberland, Freed and Union all very close, and teams could bring a lot of fans with them, as well as us taking several fans to their games.”
Bennett recalls some of their biggest games against Union University, located in west Tennessee.
“One of the great games was in ’95 and we won the conference and we ended Union’s 44-game winning streak,” Bennett said. “Then we ended their 55-home game winning streak the next year.”
Also a thing of the past: games used to be true doubleheaders, like most of us were accustomed to in high school. Bennett says that because of that, attendance is down at the women’s games.
Lipscomb still plays some of its old rivals in exhibition games. One of the better-known games is the always-popular Farmer’s Night against Freed-Hardeman every season. That game marks the season opener nearly every year. To tip off the 2011-12 season, the Bisons will host the Freed-Hardeman Lions on Nov. 1.
This year’s Battle of the Boulevard will mark the final time that Belmont and Lipscomb will meet as members of the same conference, as the Bruins are moving from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley Conference next season. The Bisons will travel to Belmont on Jan. 6 for the first round of the battle, and they’ll host the Bruins on Feb. 3.