VALPARAISO | The newest member of the Horizon League is an old Valparaiso rival.
Oakland University voted to accept an invitation to join the conference on Tuesday afternoon and the Grizzlies will begin league play this fall in 18 of the 19 Horizon League sports.
Oakland leaves the Summit League where the Grizzlies and Valparaiso were conference rivals when the league was known as the Mid-Continent Conference. Oakland joined the Mid-Con in 1997 after making the move to Division I athletics.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Valparaiso men’s basketball coach Bryce Drew said. “Us, more than anyone else (in the Horizon League), has a tradition with Oakland. We’ve played extremely competitive games and we were becoming quite a rivalry (in the Mid-Con).”
The Crusaders lead the series with Oakland 17-5, with the last win coming in an entertaining 103-102 game at the O’Rena on Dec. 21, 2010. The Grizzlies have won each of the last two contests against Valparaiso by two points.
Oakland athletic director Tracy Huth explained on Tuesday that the school will file a waiver to the Horizon League for the O’Rena to host conference games, despite having a capacity under the league-mandated 5,000 seat minimum. The O’Rena seats 4,005. Huth said that the school has a backup plan with the Palace of Auburn Hills, the site of Valparaiso’s loss to Michigan State in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
“We would love to try and get a win (at the Palace) since we’re 0-1 there,” Drew said. “That said, their arena maybe doesn’t have the size, but it’s very nice and has a wonderful atmosphere.”
Oakland’s addition to the Horizon League brings the conference back to six baseball schools, a number the league needed to reach within the next two years in order to maintain automatic qualifier status for the NCAA tournament.
Oakland had been long-rumored to join the Horizon League after Butler left last summer. With Loyola’s departure and the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone and several league presidents have been meeting frequently about expansion in recent months.
“Oakland University is the perfect fit at the perfect time for the Horizon League,” LeCrone said in a statement released by the league. “They bring a well-respected and growing athletics program and we are adding a university that is aspirational. This is an exciting beginning to our external growth plan.”