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Murray State Racers

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Murray State Racers

Murray State Racers
University Murray State University
Conference Ohio Valley Conference
NCAA Division I (FCS)
Athletic director Allen Ward
Location Murray, KY
Varsity teams 15
Football stadium Roy Stewart Stadium
Basketball arena CFSB Center
Baseball stadium Reagan Field
Other arenas Racer Arena
Mascot Racer One and Dunker
Nickname Racers
Fight song Fight Song and
The Old Grey Mare
     Navy Blue       Gold
Website .com.goracerswww

Murray State University features 15 varsity sports teams. Both men's and women's teams are called the Racers. They participate in the NCAA's Division I, in the Ohio Valley Conference.[1] Football competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. The University's current athletic director is Allen Ward.

Murray State is one of the original members of the Ohio Valley Conference, along with current OVC members Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University. These three schools, along with the University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, and the University of Evansville joined together to form the Ohio Valley Conference in 1948.

Originally, Murray State athletic teams were known as the Thoroughbreds. Over time, sports writers and editors found the name Thoroughbreds to be too cumbersome for headlines, so they often shortened it to names such as "T-Breds", "Breds", "Race Horses", and "Racers". "Racers" began to grow in popularity through the late 1950s, and it was adopted as the official nickname in 1961. The baseball team alone continued to be known as the Thoroughbreds or "Breds" until 2014.

The women's teams were known as Lady Racers until 2007. The "Lady" was officially dropped in 2007; however, some publications and media outlets still refer to the women's teams as Lady Racers instead of simply Racers.[2]

Murray State is particularly renowned for its men's basketball program, which has made 15 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and has been recognized as one of the top 30 basketball programs in modern history by ESPN.


Murray State University sponsors one co-ed, six men's, and nine women's in NCAA:[3]
  • * = Rifle is technically a men's sport, but men's, women's, and coed teams all compete against each other.

Men's basketball

Murray State is known for its men's basketball program, which has won 23 Ohio Valley Conference regular season championships, 15 OVC Tournament championships, and made 15 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, most recently in 2012. The tournament appearances included two wins in 1988 the Racers defeated North Carolina State in the first round but lost to Kansas in the second round. In 2010, 22 years to the date of the 1988 win, the Racers beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and lost to the Butler Bulldogs in the second round. In addition to Murray's win in 1988, two years later the No. 16 seed Racers took No. 1 seed Michigan State into overtime before falling 75-71. The loss in 1990 was the closest a 16 seeded team had ever come to knocking off a No. 1 seeded team in the tournament. In 1997, the No. 15 seed Racers nearly shocked the No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils in a 71-68 loss. In the 2006 tournament, junior guard Trey Pearson missed a critical 3-point shot in the final seconds of the first round game against No. 3 seeded defending champion North Carolina. UNC was fouled on the rebound and went to the line to sink the game clinching shots to defeat the No. 14 seeded Racers 69-65.

The Racers won their first-round game in the 2010 NCAA tournament in dramatic fashion, defeating fourth-seeded Vanderbilt 66-65 on a buzzer beating jump shot by senior Danero Thomas. This was the first time that any Ohio Valley Conference team had advanced to the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament since Middle Tennessee State advanced in 1989.

The Murray State basketball program first competed in the 1925-1926 season under head coach Carlisle Cutchin. Murray State finished 9-5 in their inaugural season, with the first game being a 14-31 loss to Will Mayfield College. From 1925-1941 Cutchin went on to lead the basketball team to a 296-96 record and three appearances in the NAIA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, where the Thoroughbreds finished third in 1938 and second in 1941.

Former Alabama head basketball coach Mark Gottfried coached the Racers to three Ohio Valley Conference Championships, all three years he coached there, the only OVC coach to accomplish such a mark.[4]

The Murray State basketball program has been recognized as one of the top 30 basketball programs in modern history by ESPN. The Racers are the highest true mid-major team in ESPN's rankings.[5]

The most well-known players in Racer history are Joe Fulks and Popeye Jones. Fulks starred for two seasons at Murray State (1941–42 and 1942–43), twice earning All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors, before leaving school to join the Marines during World War II. Fulks scored 621 points in 47 games during his Murray State career, a 13.2 average in an era when teams averaged less than 50 points a game. His fame grew to greater heights as a professional, becoming one of the NBA's early stars as a scoring champ with the Philadelphia Warriors. He was named to the NBA 25th Anniversary Team in 1971 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.

While at Murray State, Jones scored 2,057 points which still ranks fourth all time for the Racers. He is also Murray State's all-time leader in rebounds with 1,374, and led the nation in that category in the 1990-91 season. Jones is the only player in MSU history to record more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Jones helped lead the Racers to OVC championships in 1991 and 1992. He went on to have a successful career in the NBA after being drafted in the second round by the Houston Rockets in the 1992 NBA Draft.

Murray State's historic basketball rivalry is with nearby Western Kentucky. The two teams became arch rivals during their time together in the Ohio Valley Conference. Although the schools no longer share their conference affiliation, the rivalry game remains an annual event on each team's schedule. The two teams have met in basketball 148 times. The Racers' primary OVC rivalry is now with Austin Peay State University.[6][7][8]

The Murray State basketball program has become a steppingstone to major-college coaching success in recent years. Three of the last four Murray State coaches have gone on to head coaching positions at major conference schools.

  • Mark Gottfried served as head coach of the Racers from 1995-1998. Gottfriend became the first head coach to win three OVC titles in only three seasons. In his last season, the Racers finished 25th in the final AP Poll—the last time to date an OVC team has appeared in a final major basketball poll. Gottfried went on to coach the University of Alabama, and he is currently the head coach of the NC State Wolfpack of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
  • Mick Cronin served as head coach of the Racers from 2003-2006. Cronin coached the Racers to two OVC championship and two NCAA Tournament appearances in his three seasons as head coach at Murray State. He is now head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats of the Big East Conference.
  • Billy Kennedy served as head coach of the Racers from 2006-2011. Kennedy set a Murray State record for most wins in a season, with 31 victories in the 2009-2010 season. Kennedy took the Racers into the second round of the NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history. He now serves as the head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies of the Big 12 Conference.

Ohio Valley Conference Regular Season Championships
1951, 1964, 1968, 1969, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Championships
1951, 1964, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012


The Murray State football program first competed on the gridiron in 1924. The first game was a 0-0 tie against Union University. The Racers have had 45 winning seasons. Murray State has produced 33 All-American selections with 14 of them earning First Team All-American honors. Murray State's largest margin of victory over another Division I program came in 1932 when the Racers defeated the Louisville Cardinals by a score of 105-0. The Racers modern-day scoring record was set on October 9, 2010, with a 72-59 homecoming victory over the Missouri State Bears.[9]

Murray State's football rivalries have historically been with the Eastern Kentucky Colonels and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The rivalry with the Hilltoppers began in 1931, and it later became an annual trophy game known as the Battle for the Red Belt.

The Murray State football program has become a steppingstone to major-college coaching success. Five former Murray State coaches have gone on to head coaching positions at BCS schools.

  • Mike Gottfried served as head coach of the Racers from 1978-1980. He was recognized as OVC Coach of the Year in 1979. Gottfried went on to coach the Cincinnati Bearcats, Kansas Jayhawks, and Pittsburgh Panthers.
  • Ron Zook served as a secondary coach at Murray State under Gottfried from 1978-1980. Zook went on to become the head coach of the Florida Gators from 2002–2004 and the Illinois Fighting Illini from 2005–2011, and is now a college football studio analyst with CBS.
  • Frank Beamer served as head coach of the Racers from 1981-1986. After leaving Murray State, Beamer went on to build the Virginia Tech program into a national power through the 1990s and early 2000s. Beamer, who remains at Virginia Tech, now has the most Division I wins among active college coaches.
  • Ralph Friedgen was an assistant coach at Murray State under Frank Beamer in 1981. Friedgen was head coach at Maryland from 2001–2010.
  • Houston Nutt was head coach of the Racers from 1993-1996. He was recognized as the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year in 1996 and the OVC Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1996 while coaching the Racers. Nutt went on to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks to three SEC division titles, and he also served as the head coach of Ole Miss from 2008 to 2011. In his first two years at Ole Miss, Nutt coached the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowl Classic victories. Nutt is now a studio analyst for CBS.

In addition to the success of former Racer football coaches, former players have also gone on to achieve major successes. Former Racer quarterback Justin Fuente was named head football coach of the Memphis Tigers in 2011. As a player, Fuente was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1999. As a senior in 1999, Fuente set school season records for passing yards (3,498), attempts (400), completions (240) and touchdowns (27). Fuente still holds the MSU record for most 300-yard passing games with ten.[10]

The Racers have appeared in only one bowl game, when they were invited to the 1949 Tangerine Bowl. This was only the third installment of the Tangerine bowl, which is now known as the Capital One Bowl. The Racers played to a 21-21 tie against Sul Ross State University. The Racers were coached by Fred Faurot, who was the younger brother of legendary Missouri Tigers coach Don Faurot.[11]

Ohio Valley Conference Championships
1948, 1950, 1951, 1979, 1986, 1995, 1996, 2002

Bowl Game Appearances
1949 Tangerine Bowl


At the time the new athletics nickname was adopted in 1961, the Murray State baseball team had just purchased new uniforms and equipment bags with the Thoroughbreds logo on it, so the team requested and received a one year extension before adopting the new nickname. Alumni and fans admired the team for keeping the original nickname, so the baseball team remained known as the Thoroughbreds until 2014. In May 2014, athletic director Allen Ward announced that the baseball team would join the rest of the Murray State athletic teams and be identified as the Racers. Ward cited the need for the baseball program to enjoy the same brand identity and benefits that are afforded to the rest of the teams that identify as Racers.[12]


The Murray State Rifle program has enjoyed a long history of success since it was established in the 1956-57 season. The program has produced three team national championships in 1978 (NRA), 1985 (NCAA), and 1987 (NCAA). The team was runner up to the NCAA national championship in 1986 and 1988.[13] In addition to national championship, Murray State rifle won ten OVC team championships, seven individual NCAA champions, and produced six USA Olympic Team members. The current head coach is Alan Lollar. The Racers compete at the Pat Spurgin Rifle Range at Roy Stewart Stadium. The rife range is one of the finest shooting venues in the sport, and it has hosted the NCAA championships seven times.

NCAA Team National Championships
1978, 1985, 1987

NCAA Individual National Champions
Pat Spurgin - 1984 (Air Rifle) / 1985 (Smallbore)
Marianne Wallace - 1986 (Air Rifle)
Deena Wigger - 1988 (Air Rifle)
Benjamin Belden - 1995 (Air Rifle)
Marra Hastings - 1997 (Air Rifle)
Morgan Hicks - 2004 (Air Rifle)

Ohio Valley Conference Team Championships[14][15]
1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2010, 2011

US Olympic Team Members
Pat Spurgin - 1984 (Gold Medal winner)
William Beard - 1984
May Ann Schweitzer - 1984
Roger Withrow - 1984
Deena Wigger - 1988
Morgan Hicks - 2004


In May 2008, Murray State announced that it would add women's softball to its lineup of sponsored NCAA Division I teams. Softball would replace rowing, which would be immediately discontinued as a university sponsored sport. At the time of the announcement, the active roster for the rowing team had less than 10 members. Adding softball would aid the University's Title IX compliance goals by adding additional opportunities for female athletes. Additionally, the sport of softball was seen as more identifiable than rowing in the University's service region. Prior to the announcement, Murray State was the only school in the Ohio Valley Conference that had not sponsored softball at the NCAA level.[16]

Murray State formed a partnership with the city of Murray in which the softball program would have use of a field at the city park in exchange for significant upgrades to the facility that would remain the property of the city parks. The Racer softball team played its first intercollegiate game on February 26, 2010 against SIU Edwardsville at the Ole Miss Classic in Oxford, Mississippi.[17]

Track and Field

Murray State competes only in women's track and field. Historically, the track and field program included both men and women; however, in 2004 the men's program was reduced to a non-scholarship program. In October 2006, athletic director Allen Ward announced that the non-scholarship men's track and field program was being eliminated, effective immediately. Murray State cited budgetary and Title IX concerns as reasons for eliminating the men's track and field program. The men's team had been exceptionally successful in competition, producing ten Olympic athletes, eleven instances of OVC Men's Athlete of the Year honors, and 40 instances of NCAA Men's All-America honors.[18]

Men's Team Olympians
Tommie Turner - 1972 (1600 Relay)
Everton Cornelius - 1976 (Long Jump)
Cuthbert Jacobs - 1976 (400 Meters & 1600 Relay)
Fred Sowerby - 1976 (400 Meters & 1600 Relay)
David Warren - 1980 (800 Meters)
Alfred Brown - 1984 (400 Meters)
Elvis Forde - 1984 (400 Meters & 1600 Relay)
Patterson Johnson - 1988 (Sprints)
Stevon Roberts - 1992 (800 Meters & 1600 Meters)
Seibert Straughn - 1992 (400 Meters & 1600 Meters)

Women's Team Olympians
Heather Samuel - 1992 (100 Meters & 200 Meters)


Murray State's biggest rival is Western Kentucky University of the Sun Belt Conference. The Racers also have a well known in-conference rivalry with Austin Peay State University.

Western Kentucky

In 1922, the Murray State Normal School was chartered as a state-supported teacher training institution, because the Western Kentucky State Normal School and Eastern Kentucky State Normal School could no longer produce a sufficient number of teachers to support the growing demand in the state. Located only 120 miles away from one another, and both in the western portion of the state, Murray State and Western Kentucky quickly became known as sister institutions as well as fierce competitors. In 1941, prior to a SIAA championship game between the Racers and Hilltoppers, Murray State President James H. Richmond remarked, "We are always happy when we can defeat our chief rival and greatest friend."

Football Rivalry
The football rivalry with Western Kentucky began with a Hilltopper victory on October 24, 1931. In 1939, both institutions strengthened the rivalry by scheduling the match up as the final game of their regular seasons. This tradition continued, with only four interruptions, for the next 46 years. In 1948 both schools joined together to form the Ohio Valley Conference, where Murray won the first championship in football. The football rivalry was cemented as an annual trophy game in 1978 known as the Battle for the Red Belt. The annual meetings between the two teams ended in 2000, but the Battle for the Red Belt is still played on in intermittent basis. The last game was played in 2008 when a record crowd of 22,297 in Bowling Green watched the Hilltoppers beat the Racers 50-9 and maintain possession of the Red Belt. The Racers and Hilltoppers have met 67 times in football, with Western Kentucky leading the series 36-24-7.[19][20]

Basketball Rivalry
Murray State and Western Kentucky have met 148 times in basketball since 1932. The basketball rivalry is the oldest in the state of Kentucky. Murray State won the first meeting in 1932 by a score of 26-24 in a game played on the stage at Lovett Auditorium. Western Kentucky leads the overall series 95-53, but Murray State has won 10 of the last 19 games since Western Kentucky left the Ohio Valley Conference in 1982.

The Murray State-Western Kentucky basketball rivalry has been every bit as bitter as the football rivalry. During the 1954-55 season, the teams met four times in a series of contests that also included severe fouls on the court, ejected players, punches thrown by fans in the stands, and even a fainting cheerleader. During the next season, Racers coach Rex Alexander publicly accused the Hilltopper coaching staff of poor sportsmanship and accused Western Kentucky of enjoying an unfair home-court advantage because of "loose officiating". Following a February 1956 victory by the Racers, the winning score of 74-70 was found painted on the sidewalk in front of Henry Hardin Cherry Hall and paint was thrown on the statue of Henry Hardin Cherry on WKU's campus.[21][22]

Austin Peay

Murray State's primary basketball rivalry inside the Ohio Valley Conference is with Austin Peay State University in nearby Clarksville, Tennessee. The fans and students from the two towns, located only 60 miles apart, have developed a love-hate relationship with one another that has contributed to the growing intensity of the rivalry. In 2009, ESPN the Magazine featured the Murray State-Austin Peay rivalry as the best rivalry in the OVC and one of the best in the nation. Murray State holds the overall lead in the series 71-40, with Austin Peay winning only nine times in Murray since the series began in 1941.[23][24]

Club Sports


Murray State has enjoyed a long tradition of equestrian teams at the club level. The current equestrian club team is operated through the College of Agriculture and has more than 50 participants. The equestrian club team competes in Zone 5, Region I of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA). In May 2008, Murray State University President Dr. Randy Dunn charged Director of Athletics Allen Ward with the responsibility of moving the sport of equestrian from club status to NCAA varsity status. Equestrian offers high female participation rates, which will help the University meet its Title IX obligations. When Murray State begins competition at the NCAA Division I level, the Racers will join the University of Tennessee at Martin as the only schools in the Ohio Valley Conference to sponsor equestrian teams at the NCAA level.[16][25]


Murray State President Kern Alexander floated the idea of establishing a rowing team soon after he assumed his role as president of the university. In Spring 1996 the plan to establish the rowing team was officially announced. The thought of a primarily ivy league sport at Murray State was met with skepticism among some groups. In fact the Murray State student newspaper printed a column mocking the plan, calling it "Alexander's Navy." The plan called for Murray State to practice as well as host home regattas on Kentucky Lake. Murray State was the first school in the State of Kentucky with a rowing program, established two years ahead of the University of Louisville.[26][27]

In Fall 1996, Stephen Marchino was hired as head coach assisted by Dan Lavit. 172 students attended the first series of tryouts for the new rowing team, held at Roy Stewart Stadium. By Spring 1997 the team had been narrowed to a final group of 31 students. The first competition for the new rowing team was a duel race with Northwestern State University at the Natchitoches River.

In 1998 the women's program was elevated to NCAA status, while the men's team remained at the club level. The move to NCAA status for the women's team was done out of Title IX considerations; however, it brought increased funding, scholarships, and recognition to the Murray State rowing program. The program began hosting the annual Racer Regatta on Kentucky Lake beginning in 1999. Bill McLean was hired as head coach in 2003 after serving as the head coach at the University of Rochester for eight seasons. In the following years, McClean made great strides in turning the women's program into an award-winning NCAA rowing program. McClean hired the program's first full-time assistant coach in 2007. Robert Montague joined the program as a full-time assistant coach after serving three years as the head coach of the rowing club at the College of William and Mary.[28]

In May 2008 Murray State announced that the rowing program would no longer be sponsored at the NCAA level. Athletic Director Allen Ward indicated that the move was necessary to increase female participation while managing costs. As a result, rowing was cut and replaced with women's softball and future plans to add equestrian as a NCAA sponsored sport. Ward noted, "It was important that we address the annual budget in a manner that does not jeopardize the opportunity for competitive success across the board. Our evaluation concluded that the sport of rowing does not ideally fit programmatically at the university, so we are choosing to replace it with sports that are more identifiable with the Murray State service region." Following the loss of university funding and sponsorship at the NCAA level in 2008, the men's and women's programs have continued on in competition as a club program.[29][30][31]


The Murray State Rugby Club was founded in 1996. The club competes as part of the MidSouth Rugby Football Union. In addition to intercollegiate matches, the club also sponsors an alumni match each year in which Murray State alumni face off against the student team in a best of three series.[32][33]


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  21. ^ "WKU comes to CFSB Center for 148th meeting". Racer Insider. December 15, 2010. p 18.
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  26. ^ "School to Launch Rowing Team on Kentucky Lake". Lexington Herald-Leader. July 22, 1996. A6
  27. ^ "School to Launch Rowing Team on Kentucky Lake". Daily News, Bowling Green Kentucky. July 23, 1996. 8A
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