|Posted by briandickmann on March 15, 2015 at 10:05 PM|
Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone discussed conference expansion, among other things, during his annual press conference at the conference tournament in Valparaiso.
The conference has been at 9 members since the defections of Butler in 2012 and Loyola in 2013 and the subsequent addition of Oakland.
Expansion rumors have been common among fans clamoring for the league to add another basketball oriented school in order to assist with scheduling and increase the probability of receiving multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament.
LeCrone said the Horizon League is being proactive as far as making an addition to the conference and that the league has moved into an active phase regarding conference expansion, noting that a year ago they were in more of a "study" phase.
He suggested that membership is a key strategy that he and the rest of the conference administrators are currently involved with, but also was unwilling to say just how many schools the league was looking to add.
"Membership has to be a strategy for us," the commissioner said. "It has to be, in my opinion, a proactive strategy. But it does transcend a number. That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring a number. A number is part of it. But it’s also about fit. It’s about a financial fit, about a competitive fit, about a sport fit, about a geographic fit, about a travel fit, it’s about an alignment fit, a values fit."
"I think we know what we need to know right now about potential candidates and we’re now in an active phase."
Earlier this season, Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters mentioned that the conference would be adding at least one school this summer, telling Cleveland State Hoops' Tom Mieskoski, "They are going to do it this year. Definitely one."
So the question seems to have changed from "if" the conference will expand to "how many" schools the league will add.
"As we look at membership, I think one of the things the majority of our schools want would be more conference men’s basketball games," LeCrone said. "So that might lead you to a larger number, because I think we also believe in full double round robin."
"New environment, new world order, it’s just more and more difficult to get games. So larger right now might be better for us from that perspective."
So who would be under consideration for the conference to add?
John Parry, Cleveland State's Director of Athletics, also made news this Fall when he mentioned four schools as possible expansion candidates: Belmont, Murray State, Northern Kentucky, and Lipscomb.
Nashville-based Belmont is already an associate member of the conference as the school's men's soccer team plays in the Horizon League. The Bruins victory over Murray State in their conference tournament championship game clinched an NCAA Tournament bid for the 7th time in 9 years. They seem to be a natural fit for a basketball oriented league like the Horizon, though it would result in increased travel costs.
Murray State missed the NCAA Tournament this year despite a having a 25 game winning streak at one point and going 16-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference. There's no doubt they would benefit from playing in a conference that is usually top 15 in the RPI rankings instead of a conference ranking towards the bottom of the barrel. MSU was the only top 100 RPI team in the OVC while the Horizon League had two, Green Bay (57) and Valparaiso (50). Half of the Ohio Valley Conference's twelve teams had RPIs of 290+, compared to just one (UIC, 298) in the Horizon League.
Northern Kentucky seems to be the closest "fit" that LeCrone talked about. Their Cincinnati-area location makes them an ideal travel partner for Wright State, plus they have the financial commitment and sparkling new facilities to compete in the Horizon League. Still transitioning from Division II to Division I, the Norse will not be eligible for postseason play until the 2016-2017 school year.
Lipscomb, also based in Nashville, seems to be included just to help solidify a southern footprint if the league plans on adding three schools to get to 12. It would also satisfy some fears of fans at private schools in Valparaiso and Detroit by adding another private school to the mix.
The commissioner was hesitant to give a timeline on when conference expansion may occur, only to say it was "likely" in the near future.
"If you talk about the probability of things happening, I think the word I would use is probable," said LeCrone. "I think we’re probable but I don’t want to put a timeline on it. There is great energy from our board and with our practitioners about making something happen in a strategic way with membership."
"When I say probable, that’s our desire because there’s another partner there and you don’t know what their time frame is. Having done this a number of times, they have a decision making process that they have to go through. You just have to be respectful of that other school’s league. There are other factors that drive the date of entry."
"That doesn’t necessarily mean we couldn’t have an announcement in spring or summer with some variability on the date of entry."
Hopefully the Horizon League can repeat what looks to be a success in adding Oakland in 2013 by adding schools that are committed to men's basketball. They must avoid repeating the disastrous mistake of adding Youngstown State to the conference back in 2001.
"We’re looking for institutions who are like-minded, whose values align with us, who want to help us come together and really thrive in a really challenging and new environment," LeCrone said. "We think there are schools out there that might want to join us in doing that."
How much current and potential Horizon League members spend on mens basketball (2013 numbers, via Basketball State)
1. Detroit, $2,507,046
2. Belmont, $2,383,453
3. Cleveland State, $2,189,220
4. Wright State, $2,029,536
5. Valparaiso, $2,001,213
6. Milwaukee, $1,925,114
7. UIC, $1,839,018
8. Lipscomb, $1,786,101
9. Oakland, $1,728,287
10. Murray State, $1,633,967
11. Green Bay, $1,399,814
12. Youngstown State, $1,323,788
13. Northern Kentucky, $1,172,537
How much current and potential Horizon League members spend on overall athletic expenses (2013 numbers, via Basketball State)
1. Detroit, $14,369,971
2. UIC, $13,982,859
3. Youngstown St, $13,632,988*
4. Valparaiso, $13,483,137
5. Oakland, $12,668,104
6. Milwaukee, $12,488,007
7. Lipscomb, $12,008,545
8. Murray State, $11,789,505*
9. Cleveland St, $11,290,814
10. Northern Kentucky, $11,186,947
11. Belmont, $11,061,865
12. Wright State, $10,173,926
13. Green Bay, $7,443,576
*includes scholarship football
Categories: Horizon League expansion