The Horizon League commissioner said Youngstown State's membership provides a third Ohio school.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The mood of Youngstown State athletics is one of curiosity.
The Penguins' football team has two games remaining to earn a playoff berth. The men's and women's basketball teams are preparing for their first experience in the Horizon League.
What does the future hold?
Part of it was addressed Wednesday when Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone was the featured guest at the YSU Curbstone Coaches Tipoff Dinner in Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club.
Making it work: LeCrone, in his 10th year as commissioner, told an audience of 170 that Youngstown State was a perfect fit for the nine-school Horizon League, formerly known as the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
"We felt [Youngstown State] could come right into our league and be competitive," LeCrone said afterward. "We felt they would come in and help us grow the league athletically."
The Penguins will have a chance to do that against schools in their region, unlike the geographically-expansive Mid-Continent Conference, from which they moved.
"Youngstown is so similar to other institutions in Ohio, like Wright State and like Cleveland State," he said. "The fact that we now could have three institutions in Ohio was important."
But how will the Penguins fare on the basketball court? The men's and women's teams were picked near the bottom of the pack in the league's pre-season polls.
"This is a new beginning for us. We feel like we're starting all over," men's coach John Robic said. "The [competition] will be quite a challenge for us."
Women's coach Ed DiGregorio said, "We've played most of the teams in that league and we held our own."
Now they get to prove it.
Postseason run: Horizon League schools made quite a statement last season, especially on the men's side. Defending champion Butler went 24-8 and beat Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament. Detroit won 25 games -- beating Connecticut along the way -- and advanced to the NIT's final four.
"To look up at the halftime scoreboard and read 'Butler 43, Wake Forest 10' was absolutely unbelievable," said LeCrone, a Wake Forest graduate. "Wake Forest was a power in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] and Butler wore them out."
On the women's side, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee won 22 and 19 games, respectively, last season and have elevated the league's level of play, LeCrone said.
The Penguins begin regular season play Nov. 17. The men travel to Evansville, Ind., while the women face Bowling Green at Beeghly Center.