Well, it has been speculated for a while now, but finally Oral Roberts has announced they are leaving the Summit League - effective July 1, 2012 - for the Southland Conference. The move comes after a reported four-week "courting" from a conference that makes much more sense for ORU to be in.
The Southland, despite being Texas- and Louisiana- based, Tulsa isn't quite as far from these places (ORU and Centenary were travel partners) and it will be a huge financial relief for the travel budget. And while I definitely believe money to be the overriding factor, Oral Roberts certainly had other reasons to go. The Southland is definitely a weaker basketball conference, and for both sports ORU would enjoy immediate dominance.
There is plenty of movement going on across the college sports landscape, and the Summit League is no different. Centenary College made the move from Division I to Division III starting this year, being replaced by South Dakota, a former Division II school in their final stages of transition to Division I. Southern Utah is leaving the Summit League for the Big Sky beginning next season, being replaced by Nebraska-Omaha, another Division II up-and-comer who is best known for their hockey team. With ORU heading for the Southland, the Summit League is left with nine member schools, one shy of the "normal" amount (though that notion is quickly changing).
In short, here is the rundown. Leaving: Centenary (last year), Oral Roberts, Southern Utah (both next year); Arriving: South Dakota (this year), Nebraska-Omaha (next year).
So who should the Summit League go after to fill that void? Here is the "Short List" of schools that I see as viable candidates.
- Eastern Illinois -- EIU is a part-time member school that would fit in immediately. They are centrally located (would not extend the Summit League footprint) and have played against the league in basketball regularly. Travel Partner: Western Illinois.
- Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville -- Another lengthy school name isn't the only thing that would fit in about SIUE. They are a soccer powerhouse and have plenty of potential to do the same on the hardwood. Travel Partner: Western Illinois.
- Northern Kentucky -- Division II NKU is heading to Division I, and the Summit League could be primed to nab them in the process. Another soccer powerhouse, the Norse won the Division II national championship last year. Travel Partner: IUPUI.
There are plenty of scenarios that could happen over the next year, but one thing is for sure: They need to find another school. A nine-team conference makes everyone a bit uneasy, and there are plenty of rumors of Oakland possibly looking towards heading out to the MAC or the Horizon League. The minimum for an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament is eight teams, and losing two perennial powerhouses (ORU, and in this scenario, Oakland) would be devastating.
Stay tuned to IUPUICampusCitizen.com for information as it comes out.