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Valparaiso leaves Horizon League

Oakland+faced+off+against+Valpo+for+the+last+time+on+February+17th+of+this+year.
Oakland faced off against Valpo for the last time on February 17th of this year.

Oakland faced off against Valpo for the last time on February 17th of this year.

Nowshin Chowdhury

Nowshin Chowdhury

Oakland faced off against Valpo for the last time on February 17th of this year.

Katie LaDuke, Staff Reporter

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On May 25, the Horizon League announced Valparaiso University will be leaving the league to join the Missouri Valley Conference. This transition for the Indiana-based school will be effective July 1.

Immediately following the announcement, Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone released the following statement:

“The news was certainly not unexpected. The Horizon League is guided by a strategic plan, approved by our Board of Directors in 2014, and it includes specific and international strategies for membership retention and expansion. Our league bylaws govern how we will proceed in the next few weeks, relative to our transitioning member.”

The same day, LeCrone hosted a live press teleconference on Facebook where viewers could submit their questions and concerns. The majority of these concerns focused on adding potential schools to the Horizon League, expanding the geographic region, issues facing men’s basketball as a brand and looking forward for the future.

There are currently nine schools in the league after Valpo’s withdrawal. It has not been decided if the Horizon League will keep nine schools for the 2017-18 school year or add an additional one. However, LeCrone did mention in the teleconference that there may be up to twelve schools in total in the 2019-20 school year.

“This is basically going to come down to the will of the membership,” Jeff Konya, Oakland University Director of Athletics, said. “You always want to add value and strength to your league when you have the opportunity. So, if that is one member, two members or ten members, you need to evaluate each of those very closely.”

With the possibility of expanding the conference upwards of ten schools, the league hopes to produce multiple bids to the NCAA tournaments. On average, only one Horizon League school is sent to the first rounds of the NCAA tournament for a team’s respective sport. This past year, Oakland men’s basketball earned a trip to the NCAA National bracket tournament after placing first in their league.

“[Multiple NCAA bids] depends on who you add to the league,” Konya said. “If you have programs that are really strong in basketball, theoretically, it could put your brand into a better frame of reference for the committee to make selections in that league.”

Joining the Horizon League in 2007, Valpo has picked up a total of 20 league championships with six being in men’s basketball. This past school year, Valpo came in second to Oakland in men’s basketball for the conference standings. For five of the past six years, Valpo proved it was a contender by coming in the top two for the Horizon League standings in men’s basketball.

“Next year all systems are pointed in the right direction,” Konya said. “[Oakland] has a veteran [men’s basketball] team coming back. We added some exciting talent. We have seen some of the polling already heading into next year, and we are thought of very well. I think all of Oakland’s fans should be excited for this upcoming season, and it could be one of those storybook seasons hopefully.”

With every team in the Horizon League vying for the end of the season championships, much of the league’s focus has shifted to men’s basketball. The Horizon League has made it a mission to improve the men’s basketball program, including the importance of the university as a whole.

“I think these improvements are internal in terms of scheduling, investments, attendance, and recruiting,” Konya said. “[Basketball] is very important to the Horizon League so much so that it is identified in the strategic plan as a point of excellence. Men’s basketball and basketball in general has to be of exceptional quality.”

The Horizon League remains confident in the talent pool each school is producing, and schools are still looking forward to the future of the league as they wait for news with more plans for the upcoming school year.

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