The Oakland University Board of Trustees unanimously voted to accept the school’s invitation into the Horizon League Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re excited about this possibility,” Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi said. “We’re excited to join a group of institutions that will not only provide great competition for us, but to provide a core value, and that’s academics.”
The move, effective July 1, 2013, means the school’s athletics will participate in the league in time for the 2013-2014 academic year.
“[The decision to join for the immediate academic year] was a question that certainly came up,” Oakland University Director of Athletics Tracy Huth said. “It was well into April before we were able to find out, and it was beginning to get to the point where we were asking whether it was still feasible for us to be able to participate in ’13-14.”
“I think our coaches and student-athletes feel pretty strong that this is a good move for us, and they were willing to wait as long as we could. We were starting to get to the point that we’d have to make a decision, but fortunately it worked out for us.”
Men’s and women’s basketball coaches Greg Kampe and Beckie Francis, respectively, were not made available to comment, but will be at Wednesday’s press conference at the Detroit Athletic Club at 11 a.m. ET. The conference will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.com.
Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi speaking to the media at the school’s press conference confirming the move to the Horizon League.
The news is sure to invigorate the school’s students, alumni and general fan base. Much of that has been due to the desire to officially renew a natural geographic rivalry with University of Detroit Mercy, particularly in men’s basketball.
“I think with Oakland joining we look forward to some epic battles across the 14 sports we have in common along with a little more media coverage,” UDM interim athletic director Jason Horn told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.
At the meeting and the following press conference, Huth confirmed a Summit League exit fee of $250,000, and the school will also pay an entrance fee to the Horizon League of $882,000, both of which will come from external sources.
Despite those fees, without mentioning expected increased revenues by the move, cost reduction over the long haul also played a significant factor in the decision. The ability to cut down on flight travel as opposed to the Summit League will be severed dramatically due to the geographic blueprint of the Horizon.
“I’m going to guess overall on average, 75 percent of our operational budget has been spent on travel,” Huth said. “It’s probably going to drop between 20 to 25 percent, maybe.”
Despite the success that many of Oakland’s participating teams have had throughout its membership in the Summit, the impact of lengthier travel went beyond just cost. Faculty athletic representative Robby Stewart, who spoke at the meeting and conducts exit interviews with all senior athletes, emphasized at the meeting how much a decrease in travel within the new conference would benefit student-athletes.
“We have been wrestling with excused absence issues, and the problems of flying to some of these cities…playing a game and not being able to fly back after the game was over because they don’t have a flight back to the Detroit area,” Stewart said. “We estimate that the amount of time on the road missed from the classroom is going to be close to cut in half by making this transition, and that could have a major impact on academic success.”
Huth confirmed that the school had interest in making the move initially after Butler departed the Horizon, but no formal communication was made until within the past month about the process.
“We were pushing at one time around the time that Valpo got into the Horizon League, we thought it made sense for us back then, too,” Huth said. “I think primarily we’ve always felt that given our location and being here with Detroit what we could offer…our profile was very good.”
The factor of Oakland being a natural travel partner with UDM was noted as a positive factor during the board meeting, also.
With speculation present that the Horizon League desired to add a school with baseball in order to maintain a certain number of schools with the sport, Huth addressed that in terms of how it may have weighed in adding Oakland.
“I think it’s important…I don’t think it’s the [sole] thing,” Huth said. “I think it’s a situation that it’s a core sport, and then all the sudden you’ve got to meet all these NCAA requirements…I think it’s certainly a piece of it.”
Huth speculated that it’s “starting to get a little late” in terms of the league adding a potential tenth member for the upcoming academic year, but added that it’s “not an issue” for the league to function with nine members for now.
When asked whether any departures or movement of the Summit League was an issue, Huth seemed to dismiss the notion, saying that Oakland was “comfortable” with the stability of the league, and reiterated that the benefits of the Horizon were too great to ignore.
- When asked about men’s basketball scheduling: “We think playing in the Horizon League will be better when we’re dealing with [exposure to] recruits, so we think we can probably cut down a little bit on those [high-major] games. We’ll still certainly do some. You know Coach Kampe, he’s a competitive guy. He wants to play against the best, and beat the best.”
- How about the ’13-14 men’s basketball non-conference schedule that includes early trips to Cal, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and UCLA? Huth said those commitments will remain.
- Although the O’Rena does not meet Horizon League standards in terms of minimum capacity,
- Huth on Oakland’s student population: “Now in the Horizon League, you’ve got the opportunity (in the conference tournament) where you’re either hosting, or you’re going to Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago…you’re going somewhere that’s within proximity.” He referenced the idea that students or parents of athletes should find more ease in the ability to travel and watch teams on the road.