Oakland University’s athletics department has recently expressed a strong interest in joining the Horizon League if an invitation is offered.
“We are interested in the possibility of going to the Horizon League, but have not been contacted,” said OU Assistant Athletic Director Scott MacDonald. “So for now, everything is speculation.”
MacDonald’s comments were reiterated by Athletic Director Tracy Huth, who spoke with The Detroit News.
“Absolutely, we would definitely be interested,” Huth told The Detroit News. “ We have enjoyed our affiliation with the Summit League over the years, (but) it makes sense.”
Huth continued to explain the monetary and geographic benefits to joining Horizon as opposed to remaining with the Summit League.
The Horizon League is a Great Lakes regional conference in NCAA Division 1. Member schools of the conference are located in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and also includes the University of Detroit-Mercy in Michigan.
The league is looking to replace Butler, who will be leaving the conference in the 2013-14 seasons for the Atlantic-10 conference. The league, which will be down to nine members after Butler leaves, is looking for up to three universities to bring into the conference. Oakland has been rumored to be amongst those in talks.
The change in conference would greatly benefit Oakland in this respect, as the Summit teams are spread between Michigan and the Dakota’s after this year.
The travel for the athletics teams has been costly on the university due to this geographical issue. A switch to the Horizon would create a less costly travel schedule for Golden Grizzly teams. If Oakland does leave the Summit League, it would be common sense for all sports to move to the new conference, instead of just one, basketball for example.
Looking past the seemingly obvious benefits, a conference move could create a strong local basketball rivalry with the University of Detroit-Mercy. Another possible rivalry Oakland brings to the table is with Valparaiso, who once belonged to the Summit League.
The Horizon has a rich history in the sport of basketball. Multiple teams have made appearances in the later rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament, with Butler advancing to the championship game in both 2010 and 2011 but in a losing effort.
“Competitively, the premier sport is basketball and that suits us,” Huth told The Detroit News.
Huth said that the switch to the Horizon League with be a positive for the Oakland fan base as well, leading to a better turnout at games both home and away. The possibility of the men’s basketball team playing a team a couple hours away may lead to better fan turnout at away games.
One issue facing Oakland if an invitation is offered is in the bylaws of the Horizon League charter. A member school that is located within 25-miles of a possible new member can veto the offer, making it void. This is a problem with Detroit Mercy located roughly twenty miles from the OU campus.
While there has yet to be any official talks, OU athletics are optimistic about the possibility of playing in a more name-brand conference with regional value.