With Charlotte leaving the Atlantic 10 for Conference USA, Butler will fill the opening at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. You can almost hear the dominoes begin to sway and teeter across the mid-major conferences, all of them waiting for the music to stop so teams can find the last available seat.
While Butlers jumping conferences hits close to home, the ripple effect could get even closer, possibly affecting IPFW of the Summit League.
It is too early in the process to speculate that IPFW will be in a different league in a year or two, but the rumblings of joining the Horizon League are already beginning.
Heres a look at the two conferences, and how they compare side-by-side:
Summit League: Established 1982; nine members to begin 2012-13 season; 19 sports (10 womens, nine mens); headquartered in Elmhurst, Ill.; commissioner: Tom Douple; website: www.thesummitleague.org
Horizon League: Established 1979; 10 members to begin 2012-13 season; 19 sports (10 womens, nine mens); headquartered in Indianapolis; commissioner: Jonathan B. LeCrone; website: www.horizonleague.org
Summit League: The footprint of the Summit League will shrink, with Southern Utah leaving for the Big Sky Conference, and Oral Roberts leaving for the Southland Conference.
IPFW teams, for example, had to travel more than 1,700 miles to play Southern Utah in Cedar City, and the trip to Tulsa, Okla., to play Oral Roberts was just less than 800 miles. But because three of the teams are in North Dakota and South Dakota, long trips will continue to be a burden for the existing Summit League schools.
Without Southern Utah and Oral Roberts, the longest trip in the league is Oakland, in Rochester, Mich., to North Dakota State in Fargo. That is 942 miles.
The average one-way road trip for IPFW athletes is 6.2 hours.
Horizon League: With 10 teams across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, the Horizon is one of the more geographically friendly mid-major conferences in the country.
The farthest distance between two member schools is the 602 miles between Green Bay, Wis., and Youngstown, Ohio, and the Green Bay-Wright State (Dayton) trip is just less than 500. The best example of the geographic proximity are Loyola-Chicago, UIC (Illinois-Chicago), Valparaiso and Milwaukee all within 141 miles.
The average one-way road trip for athletes in the Horizon League is 3.2 hours.
Summit League: In the parlance of the NCAA basketball tournament, the Summit League is a one-bid conference, which means only one team – the conference tournament winner – will play in the three-week extravaganza known as March Madness.
In both mens and womens basketball, the two sports on which the Summit League is trying to build its national reputation, this restricts recruiting. All prospective players see themselves knotted together on Selection Sunday, waiting for their schools name to called.
The primary marquee name in basketball is Oral Roberts, which is leaving the league after this season. Next in line would probably be Oakland, which is still confusing to fans not familiar with a league that confuses the issue even more with IPFW, IUPUI and UMKC.
Horizon League: Success breeds success. In the four years before Butlers mens team advancing to the NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011, the Horizon landed two players from the Rivals.com top 150. Jason Calliste (No. 125) committed to Detroit in 2009, and in 2007 Matt Howard (No. 91) of Connersville went to Butler.
Since the Bulldogs appeared in their first title game in 2010, four from the top 150 committed to Butler, and one signed with Detroit. Even the class of 2013 has a Butler signee in Nolan Berry, a 6-foot-7 forward from St. Louis ranked 104th.
Summit League: Fame has been fleeting for the Summit League, particularly under that name. Under the umbrella of the Mid-Continent Conference, Valparaiso, thanks to the famous buzzer-beating shot from Bryce Drew, defeated Mississippi in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. The Crusaders went on to the Sweet 16.
Before that, the Mid-Cons most memorable hour came in 1986, when 14th-seeded Cleveland State upset No. 3 Indiana at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Since Valpos two wins in 98, the Mid-Con/Summit League has won one game in the NCAA tourney – Oakland over Alabama A&M in the opening round in 2005.
Horizon League: Butlers back-to-back trips to the Final Four and championship games thrust the university and the Horizon League into national prominence.
Led by their youthful-looking coach, Brad Stevens, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs nearly upset Duke in the 2010 title game, losing 61-59. Then a year later, as the No. 8 seed, Butler lost to UConn in the championship game 53-41.
Although Curtis Granderson is better known for being the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees, he was the 2002 Horizon League Player of the Year at UIC.
IPFW’s next move
Dont expect IPFW to jump into the Horizon League right away.
Not only are the Mastodons sports teams still trying to find their way in the Summit League, be it mens and womens basketball or softball or baseball or golf, but the leadership issue is in doubt.
Chancellor Michael Wartell is on his way toward retirement, and a new leader is still to be named, so any new conference will reserve judgment until a new university head is established.
With Butler leaving the Horizon, and Oral Roberts and Southern Utah leaving the Summit, both conferences will be down to nine institutions at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
IPFW sits squarely in the middle of the Horizon League and could conceivably team with Oakland and IUPUI into making the Horizon a 12-team league. Without trips to North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota and the newest member, Nebraska Omaha, the travel savings alone would make the jump from the Summit into the Horizon a sound one.