Horizon Leagues eyes expansion as Valpo departs for Missouri Valley


Commissioner Jon LeCrone said the focus of the Horizon League is not to find one school to replace Valparaiso, which announced Thursday it is leaving for the Missouri Valley Conference, but rather to target multiple candidates to fulfill the league’s mission of expansion.

“These transitions are always interesting in that I always see them as new beginnings, and it really creates some energy within our league,” the Vandalia native said on a conference call with reporters. “I won’t divulge the schools we’ve talked to, but we have had a number of conversations over the last 24 months across a number of geographic regions. We really can’t go much further north, but certainly we have had candidate interest from the east, the south, southeast, southwest and west.”

›› RELATED: WSU baseball loaded with confidence heading into HL tournament

The expansion likely will be incremental rather than a mass influx, with the priority being to bring the league membership back to 10 teams for a more balanced schedule.

LeCrone wouldn’t rule out the possibility of that happening in time for the 2017-18 season, but with the fall sports season less than three months away, chances are remote.

“It’s more than likely we would be nine for this coming year,” LeCrone said. “I think we’d be in position to add at least one school in ‘18-‘19 and maybe more along the way in ‘19-‘20. We’ve studied models all the way up to 14- and 16-team leagues. I think we’re committed to growing larger. How much larger I’m not quite sure.”

›› MORE: Dayton native making jump from Horizon League to Big 10

The ideal scenario, LeCrone said, is to add enough teams to allow the league to move to a divisional alignment.

“That really helps our student-athlete experience because divisional play is really the way you mitigate cross-country travel, particular for the Olympic sports to try to keep them closer to home,” he said, adding that the commitment in men’s basketball will be to try to get as many teams as possible to maintain a double round-robin schedule.

LeCrone made it clear men’s basketball will be the driving force, but not the only one, when it comes to inviting new members.

Follow Jay Morrison on Twitter

“All expansion activities are really focused on men’s basketball improvement,” he said. “So we’re thinking about emerging brands, we’re thinking about existing good basketball brands and you have to think about the timing as well. It’s a two-part decision-making process with interest on our part and interest on the candidate’s part.”

LeCrone said a healthy budget also will be an important criteria because the league wants to attract athletic programs that are competitive across all sports the way the Horizon’s two newest additions, Oakland and Northern Kentucky, have been.

Due to the likelihood of the HL being a nine-team league in 2017-18, athletic directors will evaluate a couple of different bracket options for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March. LeCrone said the league hopes to announce the bracket by the end of June.

›› RELATED: HL postseason awards go to 5 WSU baseball players

All of the regular-season schedules also will have to be re-done, but LeCrone said those are minor inconveniences and that the overall outlook is one of promise as the league continues on a path toward expansion.

“We’re really excited about our overall approach to membership,” LeCrone said. “This has really been a work in progress for two years. We have a comprehensive candidate list, and we have a high degree of interest. It’s really a new beginning for us.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Prep wrestling: Graham advances all 14 wrestlers to district tourney
Prep wrestling: Graham advances all 14 wrestlers to district tourney

The first step toward an 18th consecutive Division II state title is off to a great start for the Graham High School wrestling team. The Falcons won 12 of 14 weight classes in the Graham 1 sectional,and advanced wrestlers in all 14 weight classes to the district tournament next weekend. The top four placers in each weight class advanced. The Falcons...
Boys basketball: Shawnee, Graham score stunning first-round victories
Boys basketball: Shawnee, Graham score stunning first-round victories

If it was March, what happened at Springfield High School on Saturday night would be called madness. Call it that anyway. First, sixth-seeded Shawnee scored eight of the last nine points of regulation and the last five in overtime to defeat No. 7 Bellefontaine 49-47 in the opener of a Division II sectional tripleheader. “We just didn’t...
Rose Bowl loss still haunts Baker Mayfield, ‘We should have won’
Rose Bowl loss still haunts Baker Mayfield, ‘We should have won’

It’s been nearly two months since Baker Mayfield walked off the field at the Rose Bowl, wearing an Oklahoma uniform for the final time. And the sting of an overtime loss to Georgia in the “granddaddy of them all’ hasn’t let up that much for the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. Mayfield, in a recent...
Former LSU LB Arden Key needs to make some noise at NFL combine this week
Former LSU LB Arden Key needs to make some noise at NFL combine this week

Arden Key has nowhere to hide this week. The former LSU outside linebacker will be under 32 different microscopes at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. There, the questions that have followed him for an entire year will finally be answered. “He’s the most intriguing prospect probably since Tyrann Mathieu,” said Louisiana-based...
Notre Dame signee Joe Wilkins Jr. brings remarkable story to South Bend
Notre Dame signee Joe Wilkins Jr. brings remarkable story to South Bend

Just over a month after signing to play football at Notre Dame, Joe Wilkins, Jr. sat in one chair at a tattoo parlor with his mother, Kristy Woodley, at another getting “I am because you are” emblazoned across their rib cage. It was 5:30 in the evening on Jan. 22, exactly 18 years to the minute after Wilkins was born. Those...
More Stories