Oakland to Horizon League: A win-win move?

Posted: May 18, 2012 in NCAAB
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Though it had been whispered about behind closed doors as of late, the possibility of Oakland relocating its athletics from the Summit League to the Horizon League has gone from a murmur to full-fledged water cooler speculation among college basketball fans and scribes.

If Vegas could have taken odds on an eventual replacement after Butler made their jump to the Atlantic 10 official, Oakland would’ve undoubtedly been the favorite out of the gate. No one had to mention the Golden Grizzlies by name in the Horizon League press conference, but the questions were markedly pointed towards them.

What now? Silence, more or less. Oakland’s athletics director Tracy Huth has reasonably had little to comment on, and the school hasn’t been contacted by anyone from the Horizon according to Huth. As for a timetable?

“If you had a continuum line, and one end of the point and was tomorrow, and the other end was years from now, it’d be somewhere between there,” Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone said.

Back to the water cooler, so it seems. But there’s plenty of good reason why those in the know tagged Oakland as the presumptive favorite to fill Butler’s absence. Even so, the choice of Oakland has had detracting reasons.

Of the two  more popular ones, the first is the distance, in terms of University of Detroit-Mercy being able to “block” Oakland.  While a two-thirds vote would clear any new school to be admitted by vote, a veto from the board by way of Detroit, as is now on public record of happening once previously, is possible. But a veto could be overturned by an otherwise unanimous vote, and by-laws can, of course, always be altered. That ability to “block” Oakland exists because they’re located within 25 miles of Detroit, but even that could be somewhat of a technicality based on the comments of Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe.

“If you go as the crow flies, we are less than 25 miles (away),” Kampe said. “If you go through the roads, then we’re 27 miles.”

Po-tay-to, po-ta-to, no? Speaking of by-laws, how about the necessity for a 5,000+ capacity basketball arena?

“It’s specific..we’ve also waived it,” LeCrone said. “I’m trying to find out things that not only work for our league, but work for individual schools as well…It’s more of a feel of what’s an appropriate facility.”

If the question is why Oakland is the best option, then the answer seems fairly obvious. Men’s basketball is to the Horizon League what football is to BCS Conferences, and Oakland appears to be the premiere choice of those men’s hoops programs that can be plucked. Kampe also noted that based on Oakland’s attendance and RPI, they rank in the upper-third when compared to Horizon League schools in the sport. Even in direct comparison, they’ve won roughly twice as many games as they’ve lost in games against Horizon League competition over the last decade or so, also.

The other sports, particularly the “Olympic” ones, bode well for Oakland, also. Soccer, along with swimming and diving have been overly successful. The baseball team, picked to do little in the Summit League prior to the season, is in the thick of the conference race.  Another check-mark or two, arguably.

But much of the concern here is whether the Horizon League is interested in Oakland. So, what about the other side? Is Oakland interested, and better yet, is it a good move?

The resounding answer, seemingly, is yes, and then yes more times than Reggie Hamilton scored 30 points the past season.

Though the aforementioned sports are also certainly of importance, Oakland’s predominant sport is men’s basketball, one which the school has enjoyed unparalleled success in over the last decade within the Summit League. Even with the exodus of Oral Roberts following the 2011-2012 season to the Southland Conference, Oakland has secured the conference’s sole bid to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years. They’ve accomplished feats that even Valparaiso, a former Summit League (then Mid-Continent Conference) member and arguably the most dominant program the Summit has had in men’s hoops never gathered.

With Oral Roberts gone, they may not dominate, but they’ll be at or near the top a great deal, one would assume. The challengers would likely be North and South Dakota State, and sometimes IUPUI or Western Illinois. Still, despite those programs being good ones, and some very good, the Summit and Horizon League are not (perceived) equals.

“I think the Horizon League profile is a little higher [even though Butler is leaving],” Kampe said. “If you look at the history of their league’s RPI versus our RPI, even though the Summit League had a great year this year and closed the gap, still, there is a gap there.”

Back to the whole Oakland-Detroit hub-hub. Again, it’s known common knowledge that Detroit once blocked an Oakland invitation by the Horizon League. Nevermind that there’s a new athletic director at Detroit. Frankly, this is about what’s good for the Horizon League, not just one school. But half the reason the buzz over this is so prominent is the potential of a rivalry between two nearby schools. Aside from Michigan and Michigan State, the state’s other schools have had their moments, but none have banged the door down. Oakland-Detroit could become the clear number college hoops rivalry in the state, which will bring notoriety, and better yet for both, plenty of people in the stands. And it’s not just good for those two schools in terms of distance, either.

“Let’s talk about saving money: If you come play Detroit and Oakland on the same weekend, you’d stay in the same hotel,” Kampe said. “You don’t have to get a late [hotel] checkout for a game, or leave early.”

Speaking of distance, it’s great for Oakland. The average distance of Summit League schools is greater than double those of the Horizon League. That’s saving in cost, and missed class time for student-athletes, too. Also, as Kampe noted, Oakland fans would have infinitely greater ease in traveling to road games.

Then there’s the talent level. The benefits of recruiting, where Oakland’s staff has already found and developed gems like Hamilton and Keith Benson, are certainly to be had in a league of greater prestige.

“I think here’s a higher profile for a recruit when you say the Horizon League because of what Butler’s done,” Kampe said. “Obviously, it’s going to improve where we can go and what houses we can get in.”

Some of those houses might be in Chicago, one of the country’s better hotbeds of roundball talent.

“I think that when you’re playing in Chicago, you have a better chance of getting into Chicago,” Kampe said. “[A move to the Horizon could mean] it’s really going to enhance, because we’re going to be able to tell a kid you’re going to come home and play a couple games  every year.”

I asked Kampe after a lengthy discussion of the above benefits for both the Horizon League and Oakland, what could be the pitfalls for his program jumping ship. He paused, then answered.

“Well, I think we’ve been fairly dominant over the last so-many years, and that’s not going to happen,” Kampe said. “I think the teams at the top of the Summit League could compete favorable at the top of the Horizon…but I guess the best way to look at it is history.”

“How did Valpo do? Valpo was a dominant team in the Summit League…they’ve yet to make the NCAA Tournament.”

Uh, that’s it? If you made a list and tallied the +/- differential, the positives are tipping, heck, breaking the scales, right? Look, in a perfect world, Oakland sharpens its chops another five years and goes to the Big Dance two or three more times, fattening its resume and talent a bit more.

That’s not how things work though, especially in today’s collegiate sports where, love it it or hate it, conference loyalty is held somewhere in the same regard as boyfriends and girlfriends in junior high. Not often do conferences like the Horizon League get down on bended knee to be part of something special. All things considered, if they pop the question to Oakland, it appears they should, and would, say yes.


  1. […] On the show, Kampe discusses with us the expectations and results of the 2012 recruiting class. We touch on some of the developments the roster has seen, and most important to many, the benefits of a possible Oakland-to-Horizon League move, as I documented extensively here. […]

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