Oakland, the easternmost member of the Summit League, announced its long-anticipated move to the Horizon League on Tuesday, leaving UNO in an eight-team conference.
The move is effective July 1.
“Oakland University has been a member of the Summit League for the past 15 years and we wish them well in the future,” Summit Commissioner Tom Douple said in a press release. “In the ever-changing college athletics landscape, this move was rumored and anticipated for several months. Although it comes at a very late time in the year, we have adjusted our schedules accordingly and sent them to our member institutions today.”
Oakland replaces Loyola (Chicago) in the Horizon League. Loyola recently left for the Missouri Valley Conference to replace Creighton, which joined the new Big East.
Oakland is the third team to leave the Summit since UNO accepted its invitation to join in 2011, following Oral Roberts and Missouri-Kansas City. Denver will join the league this summer after leaving the Western Athletic Conference.
The other Summit members are IUPUI, IPFW, North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois.
“The Summit League remains steadfast in its commitment to strengthen as we move forward through the conference realignment that has transpired across the country,” Douple said. “Our current members believe that the league’s core of committed institutions gives us a solid foundation in which to build upon in the future.”
UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts, through a spokesman, referred to Douple’s statement and declined to further comment.
As part of its transition to Division I, UNO isn’t eligible for postseason play as a Summit League representative until the 2015-16 academic year.
Oakland, located in the Detroit suburb of Rochester, had long been rumored to want in to the Horizon but apparently had been blocked by Detroit Mercy, which didn’t want to share the market with the Golden Grizzlies, particularly in men’s basketball.
“Moving to the Horizon League allows us to associate and compete with institutions with outstanding academic profiles and values,” Oakland Athletic Director Tracy Huth said in a press release. “They emphasize the experience of the student-athlete. It also gives us the opportunity to play the University of Detroit Mercy on a regular basis for some spirited metro Detroit competition.”
Both the Horizon and Summit focus on men’s basketball as primary drawing cards — the Horizon was the 12th-ranked league according to realtimerpi.com last season, while the Summit ranked 19th among the 31 conferences.
The rest of the Horizon’s lineup is Cleveland State, Illinois-Chicago, Valparaiso, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Youngstown State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wright State.
Only Valparaiso (58) and Detroit (64) ranked among the top 129 in realtimerpi.com last season, while the Summit had four teams ranked that highly: South Dakota State (62), incoming Denver (66), North Dakota State (75) and Western Illinois (122).
The Oakland University Board of Trustees accepted the invitation Tuesday.
Oakland made the transition to Division I beginning in 1997 and started competition inside the Summit (formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference) in 1999-2000. The Golden Grizzlies won 73 league championships.
Oakland was the league’s premier men’s basketball program for about a decade, frequently competing with and occasionally knocking off power conference foes before fading slightly last season. The Golden Grizzlies were fourth in the league last year, going 16-17 overall and 10-6 in the Summit.
Horizon League Commissioner Jonathan B. LeCrone, in a press release, described Oakland as “a great fit” for the conference.
Oakland “brings a tradition of excellence in academics, athletics, integrity and personnel,” LeCrone said. “As a conference driven by national prominence in men’s basketball, Oakland further strengthens our league. Complementing their success in men’s basketball is a broad-based sports program that will compete well.”
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