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Horizon League Expansion: Why Oakland and Others Make Sense

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The biggest wave maker among mid-majors in the conference realignment for this coming season was Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams didn't wait for their fate to be decided by the Colonial Athletic Association.

They bolted directly to the Atlantic 10.

Following hot on their heels was Butler, which left the Horizon League looking for a big name to headline its coming season. Valparaiso is still there, but the Crusaders can't match the power of two National Championship game appearances, no matter how awesome its own NCAA Tournament heroics.

How has the conference been dealing with the departure of its biggest box office draw?

Unlike the boys at the Colonial office, the Horizon League has been mostly silent.

We know there are moves in the works. The Dayton Daily News made it clear that expansion is a topic on the discussion table whenever the gurus at the various league schools get together, as told to them by commissioner Jon LeCrone at a recent league meeting.

The bigger question is who should the league invite. The league wants to add at least one school to replace the Bulldogs, but might stretch to bring on as many as three schools.

The list of schools offered by the Dayton Daily News leaves much to be desired. On the list were newly reclassifying Northern Kentucky, recent D-I addition SIU-Edwardsville, and perennial bottom feeder Western Illinois (which fits geographically, but not skill-wise).

Here is the list of current D-I candidates that the DDN proposed along with their final RPI scores over the last five years (we will complain about the crude RPI later):

2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-9 2008-7 Avg
Butler 105 19 7 22 16 33.8
Belmont 64 56 137 118 82 91.4
Oakland 127 51 53 116 174 104.2
Murray State 21 117 51 149 196 106.8
Robert Morris 101 99 131 108 121 112
Morehead State 166 75 91 134 228 138.8
IUPUI 205 120 87 241 72 145
IUPUFW 275 178 225 229 219 225.2
Western Illinois 159 335 278 328 266 273.2
SIU-Edwardsville 300 329 322 -- -- 317

When you look at his table, none of the schools come close to making up for the loss of Butler -- not even with the slip of the Bulldogs last season, a year that still ended with a deep postseason run, albeit in a lower tournament.

The best of the bunch is Belmont, which is already moving to the OVC this coming season, and may not be ready for a jump yet again if offered (it didn't stop others whose "soft landing" was the WAC though).

The Bruins would bring along a big market in terms of Nashville to replace Indianapolis, and a basketball history that at least shows a top 100 average ranking in the past five seasons.

No one else measures up to that. Oakland has been bouncing around, Murray State is on a decent recent run. But to dip past those two schools requires some intestinal fortitude and a real admission that the league is taking a step down.

That is not to dis potential additions of the top three choices. Belmont and Oakland (to add on to the already captured Detroit market) offer strong basketball additions. Murray State has been on and off a solid program for years, reaching back to the 90s.

All three would immediately give the league some additional heft at the top, and would help to buffer against potential losses of Milwaukee or Valparaiso.

All three help to add weight to the television scheduling of the league without insane additional burdens for travel (see Boise State to the Big East).

The smart move would be to invite Oakland, which has already said it is hopeful for an invite, and then gauge the interest of the other top choices. A 12-team Horizon, especially with the basketball talent among what would be the top half of the league, could become a force in scheduling, and NCAA Tournament might.

The loss of Butler might be the best thing that ever happened to it.