Waiting for Horizon to take shape

Major collegiate teams have been shuffling conferences more than a friendly game of musical chairs.

The best example would be Butler exiting the Horizon League after the end of the 2011-12 season and entering the Atlantic 10, which turned into a one-year stint.

The Bulldogs, one of the best mid-major men’s basketball programs in the country, are headed to the new Big East Conference with Xavier and Creighton on July 1.

That leaves an opening in the Missouri Valley Conference with the Bluejays leaving. UIC and Loyola out of the Horizon League are rumored to take Creighton’s place, but nothing has been official as of yet.

For now, the Horizon League has nine teams in UIC, Loyola, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Detroit, Valparaiso, Wright State, Cleveland State and Youngstown State.

Just as there has been talk about UIC leaving the Horizon, there has been speculation that Oakland of the Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) could join the Horizon League.

Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone or anyone from the league would not comment on the possible exit of UIC or Loyola or addition of Oakland.

“At this time, the Horizon League has no comment on matters pertaining to membership,” said Bill Potter, Horizon League Director of Communications and New Media.

However, Oakland, which lost to the YSU men’s basketball team in the first-round of this year’s CollegeInsider.com Tournament, welcomes the idea of joining the Horizon League.

“It was a great experience for us to play a Horizon League team and get that experience,” Oakland junior guard Travis Bader said after the CIT game.

“I know the guys are looking forward to it if we are in the league next year.”

Plus, the travel time would be cut down dramatically for Oakland and it would build in a natural rivalry with in-state foe Detroit.

“I think it would be great if we were in the Horizon League,” Bader said. “The competition is really good. We know a lot of players from AAU and stuff like that. I think it would be a great experience for this upcoming team, just the competition overall is up there.

“Also, I think it would help travel-wise. Right now, we’re going to North Dakota, South Dakota a couple of times in the year.”

With this reshuffling, however, the Horizon League must make a strong effort to keep teams like Valparaiso and Green Bay, two schools that have national name recognition in men’s and women’s basketball, respectively.

“We have complete faith in Jon LeCrone,” YSU Director of Athletics Ron Strollo said. “He’s in contact on a daily basis with the presidents. This is really a presidental decision. As athletic directors, we have faith they are going to do the right thing.”

Strollo added YSU did the right thing in 2001, heading into the Horizon League from the former Mid-Con, which took the Penguins as far as Utah.

Most travel in the Horizon League can be done by bus, with CSU and Wright State in Ohio.

“We think we have some institutions like ours,” Strollo said. “We have two institutions in the state of Ohio, so it’s a good geographic fit for us. It’s where our alumni base is. It provides great competition without having to travel long distances. We’re extremely happy with the Horizon League.”

Also, Strollo is happy with the football team, which is FCS and in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It takes the Penguins as far away as Iowa and the Dakotas.

However, Strollo does admit he sometimes wishes all sports could be in a league like the Mid-American Conference. He didn’t specify that the school wishes to join the MAC at this time. YSU was denied entrance into the MAC in 1995 and some speculate that Kent State and Akron kept them out, although that has never been proven.

“Sometimes I do because I think it helps build some rivalries,” Strollo said. “But, you sure can’t help to be excited to be where we are in the Missouri Valley Conference and how strong it is in this level of football. The level of football and quality of football we’re able to bring to Stambaugh Stadium, especially in conference, is at a very high level.”

It would be nice if in this current reshuffling there came another shot at YSU to the MAC, which would be the perfect fit for the Penguins.

Speaking of the MAC, Kent State and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Bethune-Cookman are the only two schools on next year’s YSU men’s basketball slate. YSU travels to KSU and hosts Bethune-Cookman.

YSU assistant AD Rick Love, who finalizes those contracts with opposing schools, said the Penguins are currently eying another November tournament like the one they played in Duquesne last season.

However, he said it’s hard to plug in non-conference games without knowing the status of the Horizon League.

“We’re waiting to see if Horizon League adds a 10th team, making it 16 or 18 teams,” Love said.

For now, YSU and the rest of the Horizon League has to wait until the dominoes fall as Loyola, UIC and Oakland are players of local interest in this collegiate reshuffling game.