Oakland joining Horizon League
YSU’s Strollo: Michigan
school is ‘the right’ fit
By Joe Scalzo
The long-rumored marriage between Oakland (Mich.) University and the Horizon League became official on Tuesday, helping to solidify a league that has lost Butler and Loyola in the last 12 months.
“I don’t think it surprises anyone, and part of the reason it doesn’t surprise anyone is they’re the right fit,” said Youngstown State athletic director Ron Strollo. “They’re the right fit geographically, and when you look at the list of teams they sponsor, it’s very similar to the rest of our conference.”
Oakland, which joined the Summit League (formerly the Mid-Continent Conference) in 1997, will officially join the Horizon League on July 1. It is located about 45 minutes north of Detroit, where league member Detroit Mercy is located.
“Oakland University is the perfect fit at the perfect time for the Horizon League,” Commissioner Jonathan B. LeCrone said in a release. “They bring a well-respected and growing athletics program and we are adding a university that is aspirational.”
The Golden Grizzlies compete in 18 of 19 HL sports, with the exception being men’s tennis. The league will again have nine members, and Strollo said it’s possible the league could eventually expand to 10 or 12 teams.
“I think that’s something our group of presidents will continue to talk about,” he said. “Obviously, we have to do what’s right for the institutions involved with us right now.
“I don’t get the sense there’s any anxiety over doing it really quickly. I don’t think it needs to be done right away. You need to be patient in the process and not just grab the first team willing to come.”
Although Oakland’s addition was driven by men’s basketball — the Grizzlies ranked 166th in RPI last season, compared to 221st for Loyola — the addition is crucial for baseball. The HL again has six baseball teams, the minimum to keep its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“When you dip below six teams, you have two years to fix that, so they’re coming in at the right time,” Strollo said. “That’s obviously an important sport for us.”
The Golden Grizzlies were conference rivals of YSU from 1998-2001, when the Penguins joined the HL. Most recently, YSU’s men’s basketball team beat Oakland 99-87 in the first round of the College Insider.com Tournament in March.
“Obviously it brings an institution that our fans are familiar with,” Strollo said. “And they really add to our basketball [strength].
“When you’re adding teams, you need to be sure you’re adding quality men’s basketball programs. And the more you can solidify your other programs like baseball, the better off you’ll be.”