Oakland University this week accepted an invitation to the Horizon League, making official its long purported departure from the Summit League. Boom. Done.
Now what for the NCAA Division I conference that houses three schools in the Dakotas and has made Sioux Falls the long-term home of its basketball tournament? It has to do something, if only add an affiliate member for baseball or convince an existing member to add the sport. Flirting with losing AQ status would be a death sentence.
Stop, for a second, and think about how you might solve the issue. And now quit it. Why? Because the process is flawed.
In your mind, you thought of a specific school or schools and how it would or wouldn’t fit in terms of geography, status, strengths and weaknesses. You considered whether or not it sponsors football or baseball. You asked yourself if this school would pull the trigger on moving to the Summit or if it would pass on the opportunity.
All valid thoughts. Except if the rash of conference realignment has proved anything it’s that common sense does not necessarily matter.
Every factor you considered in our little exercise was predicated on facts and information, the tools humans use to make sound, rational decisions. But that way of thinking doesn’t apply to what’s going on - at least not enough of the time and especially at the mid-major level.
To be clear, I’m not referencing Oakland - the Golden Grizzlies do fit into the Horizon just as Southern Utah always belonged in the Big Sky Conference. Those seem like some of the exceptions rather than the rule. But too much of the movement either doesn’t make sense or seems like chasing.
What’s more, perception is an issue - maybe even a big one. People in the Dakotas know that NDSU, SDSU and USD are well-supported schools with reasonable resources. They’re not perfect, but they have some key advantages that other mid-majors don’t by being flagships. Toss in Denver and Western Illinois and that’s the core of a sustainable and adequate league. But that’s not enough, and the Summit League may be perceived as inferior in outside markets in part because so many schools have willingly left.
Meanwhile, people give the benefit of the doubt to a league like the WAC because of its history - even though the teams that built that history have since exited. Perceptions don’t change overnight.
The point is this: There’s no real way to predict what’s going to happen to the Summit going forward. None. Because the patterns are too erratic. The presidents council has the right idea in being judicious and trying to find a quality and long-term fit. It’s just that there aren’t many schools that fulfill the criteria, and it getting them to sign on may take some high-level convincing or back-room wheeling and dealing.
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.