Conference realignment has already pillaged two charter members and the marquee basketball program from the Horizon League in recent years. Both Loyola and Butler departed before the first few rounds of realignment settled to a halt.
Now, with rumors of the Big 12 looking to add members, conference realignment may become a reality once more. Any moves the Big 12 may make would be based on what a school could do to enhance the conference's football profile. Certainly no schools in the Horizon League even come close to fulfilling the Big 12's football needs. But, the trickle down effect of Big 12 expansion could result in the Horizon League losing schools to other conferences looking to replenish their ranks.
Which schools are the likely movers? Just about every school would jump at the chance to move to a higher profile basketball conference. But who is currently poised to make the leap?
The Panthers could be a target for conferences looking to expand. Milwaukee basketball is generally around the top of the Horizon League standings and would add value to a basketball-centric conference. But, realignment is heavily based on the potential media market each school brings. Milwaukee is big enough city to get the Panthers in that discussion, but with Marquette and Wisconsin nearby, it could be an obstacle.
Milwaukee could be a fit for the Missouri Valley should they decide to expand. Wichita State has recently expressed a desire to bring back its football program and leave the Missouri Valley. The conference would likely want to replace Wichita State or could bring in teams preemptively.
Valparaiso certainly has seen a great deal of success on the basketball court in recent years. They bring a high profile name among mid-major circles to the table. Valparaiso also is close enough to potentially draw some of the interest from the Chicago media market. Valparaiso's athletic facilities would likely need to improve for a conference to consider adding the Crusaders though.
Rumor had it that Valparaiso was among the final schools considered by the Missouri Valley the last time they expanded. Of course, Loyola was ultimately chosen, but Valparaiso would once again be a quality choice if the Missouri Valley does decide to expand.
Like Valparaiso, UIC was rumored to be a finalist in the last round of Missouri Valley expansion. The Flames have excellent athletic facilities and are located in Chicago, which would make them a prime candidate. Unfortunately, UIC has also struggled on the basketball court recently, but they have the resources to make a comeback in a big way.
While the Missouri Valley was previously interested in UIC, the conference already added cross-town rival Loyola. They may not be looking to another school in Chicago.
Two potential scenarios seem to put the Horizon League in danger of losing programs once again to realignment. The first would be the chain reaction set off by the Big 12 and then the AAC expanding. If those conferences suddenly start adding members of other conferences, it could quickly open up movement in Conference USA, the MAC, and other leagues across the conference. As a result, the Horizon League could suddenly be an option.
The other scenario is the Missouri Valley looking to beef up its numbers as a preventive measure to Wichita State departing. The MVC was rumored to have courted several Horizon League schools during the last expansion and could turn to the league again. Keep an eye out for further developments on both scenarios in the coming weeks as conferences hold yearly meetings.