Last year it was a name change and this year a conference change.
Purdue Fort Wayne's athletics teams will join the Horizon League for the 2020-21 season, the university announced today.
The Horizon League Board of Directors approved the university’s application for membership this week, and PFW will officially join on July 1, 2020.
“We are excited to welcome Purdue Fort Wayne to the Horizon League family,” Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “The Mastodons align with the Horizon League’s mission, vision, and core values and is located in the middle of our geographic footprint. Their addition will bring competitive potential, especially in men’s basketball, and an engaged and vitalized community. Purdue Fort Wayne is the right school at the right time.”
The Mastodons will compete in the Summit League for its 13th and final year this upcoming season, before joining a Horizon League that’s comprised of 10 universities including: Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Illinois-Chicago, IUPUI, Northern Kentucky, Oakland (Mich.), Green Bay, Milwaukee, Wright State and Youngstown State.
“I think our institutions align more closely,” director of athletics Kelley Hartley Hutton said. “We’re in the same recruiting footprint and the way we’re investing in our sports is much more similar really than our Summit League friends.”
Hartley Hutton said the university’s realignment and split from Indiana University last summer provided a chain reaction for the institution, resulting in a more attractive offer for it to join the conference.
“I think we became more ready and attractive to the Horizon league," Hartley Hutton said. "The new brand identity offers a new brand clarity that has been beneficial to this campus.”
The Mastodons will compete in 15 of the 19 conference championships the Horizon league offers. Men's volleyball competes separately in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. PFW does not compete in men's and women's swimming and diving or sponsor a men's and women's tennis program.
PFW, formerly competing as IPFW for the majority of its time in the Summit League, isn’t the first Summit League team to make the jump to the Horizon League.
Most recently, IUPUI joined the Horizon League from the Summit League in 2017. Prior to that, Oakland joined from the Summit League in 2013. All but Detroit Mercy and Northern Kentucky had stints in the Summit League.
“This is a wonderful day for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and fans,” Purdue Fort Wayne Chancellor Ronald L. Elsenbaumer said. “Our student-athletes and coaches are ready and eager to compete at the highest levels, and this move will provide incredible opportunities for them to shine. We are honored to join such an impressive group of universities in a league that is such a perfect fit for us.”
In 2017, IUPUI replaced former Horizon League member, Valparaiso, which left for the Missouri Valley Conference the same year. Speculations occurred then that PFW might make the jump at that time before IUPUI was chosen.
“It was an idea that we had been talking about for a number of years, and when Valpo left and IUPUI went in that was one of those times,” she added. "We were knocking on realignment back then and there were some things brewing and we weren't ready, so we didn’t pursue that hard at the time.”
The Mastodons were at a geographic disadvantage competing in the Summit League, which consists of Denver, North Dakota, North Dakota State, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Oral Roberts and Omaha.
Hartley Hutton said that Summit League has changed a lot since PFW joined in 2007 – most notably in a geographic way with most of the programs being west. The university started competing at the Division I level in 2002 and was not affiliated with a conference until joining the Summit League.
"The Summit League continued to expand, but all west, and schools that frankly we don’t have a ton in common with," Hartley Hutton said. "Some of those schools are big flagship schools in football; schools with huge alumni bases.
“It’s our duty to assess if that league was the best place for us, and we got to a point where we really decided it wasn’t,” she said.
The league headquarters are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and PFW was forced to travel a good distance for every away game. The Horizon league headquarters are in Indianapolis.
“It's more than just geographic, but when you look at the geographic footprint that makes sense, too,” Hartley Hutton said. “With the rising cost of Division I athletics, we’re all interested in saving money on travel and investing it in other areas that desperately need attention.”
For comparison, six members of the Horizon League are located less than 200 miles from Fort Wayne. It’s 126 miles to PFW’s closest member (IUPUI) and 367 miles to its furthest member (Green Bay).
The Mastodons’ shortest trip by bus in the Summit League is to Western Illinois – a six-hour drive.
“All that travel and then trying to compete, so obviously our teams are going to benefit,” she said.
Men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman, who’s spoken extensively on the impact of tough travel schedules, is thrilled in the new found ease of scheduling.
“Due to our players' success over the past 6-7 years, we have had a difficulty scheduling games,” he said. “Our move to the Horizon league will get our players a more manageable travel schedule and provide them the opportunity to miss significantly less class. I have no doubt that the convenience will add to our program both academically and athletically.”
The Mastodons have won seven total team tournament championships in the Summit League.