Months of speculation and rumors were finally put to rest this week when Oakland officially accepted a bid to join the Horizon League. The news didn't move the needle all that much on the national stage, given that Davidson accepted a bid to the Atlantic 10 on the same day (that didn't move the needle much either), but it's still noteworthy.
It's my opinion that the Horizon League is a better basketball conference today than it was at the end of the season.
While I've been silently clamoring for Oakland to join the conference since Butler left last summer, not everyone has shared my view. As soon as the rumors began, my Twitter feed/text messages have shown a split as to whether or not Valparaiso fans have been accepting of Oakland.
One common theme has been that by adding Oakland, the Horizon League does nothing to expand its footprint. Yes, that is accurate. No, I don't think it's relevant.
The Horizon League is a great conference, but this isn't the Big Ten we're talking about. The Horizon League is what it is: a collection of Midwest schools that generally are not the biggest draw in their market; while still delivering an exciting brand of basketball.
It's hard for me to care about conference footprint concerns when I can drive to clothing stores in Valparaiso and see plenty of Purdue/Notre Dame apparel, but nothing for the Crusaders.
Milwaukee competes against Wisconsin and Marquette for relevance and market attention. Detroit (and now Oakland) against Michigan and Michigan State. Cleveland State and Youngstown State against Ohio State. Wright State gets overshadowed by Dayton as well as the Buckeyes. UIC (and formerly Loyola) gets trumped by Illinois and Northwestern. Green Bay is possibly the only school immune from this, but unless the ball is oblong and comes from a pig, few truly care in Titletown.
I laugh when the Missouri Valley Conference sold the Chicago market as a reason for adding Loyola. Have you picked up a Chicago newspaper lately? Listened to sports talk radio? Is Loyola a big draw in the Windy City? When the Crusaders played at the Gentile Center earlier this year, there were considerably more Valparaiso fans in attendance than there were Loyola fans. Enjoy your new footprint MVC.
Sure, adding Belmont would be great as it would expand the Horizon League into Nashville, but does that really matter when Vanderbilt rules Opryland? Northern Kentucky would be great to add to get into the Cincinnati market, but good luck trying to draw college basketball fans away from the Bearcats and Xavier.
Questioning Oakland's value to the league because of duplicated footprint is lazy and tired. It shows a misunderstanding of the system. The Big Ten has recently expanded into Nebraska, Maryland and New Jersey. That's great for the Big Ten. The Horizon League isn't the Big Ten, nor is it pretending to be.
I don't want you to think that I'm bashing the Horizon League here. The Horizon League is the perfect kind of conference for the Valparaisos and Oaklands of the world. The league has a great contract with ESPN and does a phenomenal job promoting the rest of the league schedule through the Horizon League Network.
So if the Horizon League isn't on the level of the Big Ten, then it seems the conference is bound to be lumped in with The Summit League. That's not accurate either.
The other common theme that has popped up from people that are against adding Oakland is now Valparaiso is back in a conference with two members from the old Mid-Con and the Horizon League is slowly regressing to a low-major conference.
That's simply wrong.
The Horizon League is a much better basketball league than the Summit League. Trading Oakland for Loyola will only strengthen the league.
Since Valparaiso joined the Horizon League in 2007, the conference has had an average conference RPI of 11.16 while the Summit League has had an average of 19.5. The Horizon League has had winning records over non-conference D1 opponents in five of the last six years. The Summit was a league-best 48-50 in 2011-12 before dipping back to 27 games under .500 in 2012-13.
Loyola has had an average RPI of 229.5 over the last six years while Oakland is at 114.8.
The final point that Horizon League detractors like to argue is that the league is no longer relevant on a national level without Butler. Yes, that may be accurate, but I'd also argue that the league wasn't all that nationally-relevant with Butler until the Bulldogs went on an amazing run that will likely never be duplicated.
Getting to back-to-back national title games shouldn't be the bar for mid-major conferences when looking to add a team. There isn't a school out there that could've replaced Butler in the eyes of the people who are still living in 2011. Sadly, the national media (who typify lazy and tired) are still living in those times. I can't begin to tell you how many times I heard in the past season "The Horizon League is wide open this year because Butler is gone."
The only thing that occurred in the last season is a team that has beaten Butler four straight times won the conference for the second straight season. The Horizon League conference RPI moved up two spots after Butler departed. The Horizon League won 10 more non-conference D1 games than the year before while having one less team. It lost one fewer D1 non-conference game while having one less team.
Oakland is the right fit for the Horizon League. Footprint doesn't matter. The Horizon League is clearly better than the Summit League. Finally, comparing Oakland (or any team) to Butler is not realistic. The current Butler program doesn't even compare to the Butler that the media and Horizon League detractors seem so infatuated with.
Welcome Oakland. It's good to see you again.