Horizon League Basketball

Departures, Arrivals and Uncertainty Shake Horizon League Fans

If you are a fan of a Horizon League member school and expected to have a rather boring off-season, you have probably been surprised.

Realistically, there wasn’t supposed to be much going on, aside from Cleveland State and Youngstown State, which each hired new basketball coaches.

But as it has been with mid-major conferences across the country, the Horizon League found itself in the riptide of change elsewhere.

That elsewhere turned out to be the Missouri Valley Conference, which itself was a part of a snowball that started rolling when the American Athletic Conference invited Wichita State to come aboard. The MVC, in turn, decided it was a school short and looked around for somebody to invite.

For Valparaiso, it became an opportunity to leave the Horizon League. For the remaining schools, it became a time to panic, at least as far as scrambling around to fill the scheduling holes were concerned.

Realistically, the conference didn’t need to really do anything, given how late in the school year it was when Valpo left. The Horizon League still has nine school, and even commissioner Jon LeCrone, when talking about conference expansion in a video conference, did not appear to have a sense of urgency to add another member by the start of July.

So it was curious to find rumblings of the addition of a new school started to grow louder, with fans speculating on a wide range of possibilities, from Robert Morris to Grand Canyon, the latter intimating a westward shift for the conference if it happened.

In the end, however, LeCrone, with the unanimous approval of the Horizon League’s presidents and chancellors, invited IUPUI, in what only can be described as the basketball equivalent of trading a cow for some magic beans.

You can cut through the entire PR spiel about the virtues of IUPUI, and you can certainly go ahead and avert your eyes from the presentation that IUPUI apparently broke out in support of its bid. The league absolutely could have waited a year to expand. And it didn’t.

The good news is that for teams that were slated to struggle at the bottom of the basketball standings next year, congratulations, you have competition. The Jaguars were a meager 14-18 overall and 7-9 in the Summit League, capping the season off by getting hammered at the conference tournament, 90-62, by Omaha.

And next year doesn’t look all that promising, either, losing their top three scorers, Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary and Kellon Thomas, to graduation. In fact, IUPUI hasn’t been a factor since Ron Hunter left for Georgia State.

The only real benefit to IUPUI’s arrival would be that once the agreement with Olympia Entertainment ends, the Horizon League can look into moving the men’s and women’s basketball tournament to Indianapolis, the conference’s home base. Then again, this could have already happened, but clearly Olympia’s pitch to have the tourney in Detroit was too great a pull.

Beyond hoops, the move throws an even bigger question mark on the Horizon League’s commitment to baseball. With Valparaiso out, the conference is now left with only six schools that sponsor the sport. And with no clear urgency on the Horizon League’s part to address that concern, fans of the remaining baseball teams are left to wonder if their school should be seeking an associate membership elsewhere.

After all of this, you have to wonder what’s in the cards for the Horizon League in the future. LeCrone’s idea of expansion still appears steadfast, but what schools would that include? Does he go west and invite Grand Canyon and New Mexico State? Or does he stick close and bring Robert Morris and Fort Wayne into the fold?

No matter what happens, fans are hoping than anything is better than the current situation.

E-mail Bob at bob [dot] mcdonald [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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Bob has written sports, ranging from high school to college, for many years, and is the Senior Editor for basketball at Campus Pressbox. The former Cleveland State columnist at More Than a Fan: Cleveland, he co-hosts the Horizone Roundtable podcast on Fourlights.fm with Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com and co-hosted Slow Thumbs Up, a podcast that talks about the reality show Big Brother, with his wife, Jessica. He has also published a novella, Dilemma, and two novels, Flagrant Foul and The Gray Summer, which was released in April 2017.

Notable Replies

  1. I had mentioned on Twitter that this column was sparked by a conversation current and former Horizon League fans took part in that I was tagged on (and occasionally commented). So, thanks, guys.

    :thinking: pic.twitter.com/X4olYQt0p7

    — Valpo Hoops Fan ( @Valpo_Hoops ) July 10, 2017

  2. Any thoughts on the Pat Baldwin hire at Milwaukee?

  3. How far west, and for how many teams, can a small conference like this expand? I can't imagine travel budgets can absorb lots of expansion. Can they?

  4. Baldwin is currently a victim of circumstances, coming into the coaching gig at a really late stage in what ESPN's Myron Medcalf labeled the most challenging college basketball coaching job in the state of Wisconsin. Not helping matters is that two of Milwaukee's spring signees, Dylan Anderson and Caleb Nero, decided not to join the Panthers after all.

    Like Dennis Felton over at Cleveland State, Baldwin is going to have a pretty steep uphill climb this season, though unlike Felton, Baldwin's truncated timeline will be his obstacle, considering he's got a pretty good nucleus of young players around him.

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