In LeCrone’s Shoes

The Penguins have proven the only sport they care for is football.

This whole conference expansion thing is out of control.  By the end of 2010, we might see four 16-team super-conferences that are dedicated to football.  This leaves out schools like Marquette and Georgetown.

Don’t need to worry about them, they’ll be just fine.  You know who I’m worried about?  The Horizon League.

The most likely scenario is that the 10-team league will stand pat.  Butler will do themselves better to be like Gonzaga of the Horizon rather than moving up to a conference they may not compete in.  People know who Butler is now, the Bulldogs don’t need to be in a better conference to get the respect of the Selection Committee.

But just in case someone comes knocking on the door, the Horizon League should be proactive and get ours.

Here’s the deal.  The Horizon League’s schools all have different things that endear them to the conference.  Green Bay has the Kress Center and a nationally prominent women’s program.  Like many MVC schools, they also are practically the only show in town when the Packers aren’t playing.  Too bad the Packers play half of their season.

Detroit is the D-I school of one of the biggest cities in the country.  Are things looking up? No, and they aren’t with Cleveland either.  But UDM and CSU represent large television markets, and if they are winners, they can bring major attention to the conference.

Valparaiso is much like Green Bay, except they don’t have the Packers to fight.  In many ways they’re stuck in a Mid-Con state of mind (Zero Horizon Titles in any sport despite being the only school with all 19 Horizon League sports) but the Crusaders have history to hang their hat on.  Wright State has a recent NCAA run and great facilities (Nutter Center, a high-major quality practice facility) to lean on. The Chicago schools, even with small chunks of the third-biggest TV market in the country, are good.  UIC is the second flagship of the UI system, a large state university with a great medical school.  Loyola has the 1963 title to hang its hat on, but its investment in a Gentile Center renovation (hopefully they get it right this time) and rabid yet small fan base will give the Ramblers a spot.

Butler is Butler, and I don’t think Milwaukee needs to be argued here; we know we’re well-qualified, and the new basketball arena is going to put us over the top.

All the schools, of course, with the exception of Youngstown State.

No offense to the Penguins, but it’s painfully clear they had no plans to invest in college athletics outside of football.  Their appeal in the beginning was the football team, and possibilities of that sport coming to the Horizon League should schools begin to add it (CSU is flirting with it, Milwaukee and UIC have consistent pressure from alumni).

But we’re not getting football in the Horizon League, not anytime soon.  YSU, if they wanted to stay, would have put some money into their basketball program.  As it stands, we see no cause for improvement.  Slocum and his staff are still paid among the lowest in the league.  For fear of getting fired, Slocum and his staff have scheduled horrible low-majors and D-II schools to boost win totals and keep their jobs.  The Beeghly Center, while on-campus and small, lacks many amenities for fans to be attracted to it.  And the city of Youngstown, no offense if you’re from there, can’t compete with Green Bay, let alone Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Dayton, or Cleveland.

It’s in our best interest for the Horizon League to cut ties with the Penguins.  They show no drive to change things, and have sat through Slocum’s porous coaching and will continue to do so.  Hell, it took a big fat zero in the W column for the women’s basketball coach to get fired.

So do we go back to a 9-team league?  No.  Personally, I like the travel partners we have now.  But we can’t just sit and wait for a better conference to come get Butler.  We need to become that better conference.

My suggestion?  Pursue Saint Louis.  The Billikens, with coach Majerus at the helm, look down on us now.  It is in their interest to join the Missouri Valley, but the MVC isn’t bringing them in.  The MVC has remained largely unchanged for 20 years (adding Evansville in 1994 being their last move) and they’ve always been a small-town, only-show-in-town conference.  It works; conference schools like Bradley enjoy Big Ten-like followings in their towns, and SLU isn’t the end-all be-all in STL.  First it’s the Cards, then it’s the Rams, then it’s the Blues, then it’s SLU basketball.

Sound familiar?  Sounds like UIC, Loyola, Butler, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cleveland State, and Detroit.  All of us operate as second-tier athletics in our own cities, some to a further extent than others.  While Saint Louis was an MVC school at one point, the conference has changed big time since 1974.

They fit very much into our conference, a midwest conference that has a heavy influence from soccer.  UIC and Milwaukee’s men’s soccer programs are much like Saint Louis, who was winning national titles 30 years before it was a real NCAA sport.

Basketball?  They’d fit in like a glove with the mix of private and public schools the Horizon League has to offer.

If SLU says no, then don’t waste time; pillage a school such as Oakland from the Summit League or North Dakota State.  Does it matter who it is?  Big time.  But action is what we need, and the Horizon League better not be caught sitting around watching highlights of Butler’s Final Four run.  They need to act, and act now, before some other conference is showing those highlights to show off its newest member.

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