GREEN BAY - Division 1 college football has seen seismic changes in recent seasons with colleges and universities changing conference affiliations like a square dancer changes dance partners.
For the most part the basketball programs at those schools have seemingly been a secondary thought to the money made on college football.
That all changed with the split of the "Catholic Seven" from the remaining schools in the Big East Conference. The group consists of Marquette, Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, Providence, St. Johns and Seton Hall. Those seven along with Butler, Xavier and Creighton are set to begin play in the new "Big East" Conference during the 2013-2014 school year.
Additional members of the conference are rumored to be on their way as well. The most frequently mentioned schools are St. Louis University and Dayton.
This all may seem far away from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the Horizon League but that's not the case according to Horizon League Commissioner Jonathan LeCrone.
"I have always looked at our athletic world as interconnected so things that happen in league's that might seem far away or even league's that might have football for instance might have a tendency to impact other leagues. It's just kind of a new normal if you will," LeCrone told FOX 11.
The most obvious way the Horizon League could be affected is in its membership. As institutions in higher-rated league's move, it opens spots in their league. One league that is looking to fill membership voids is the Missouri Valley Conference. LeCrone told FOX 11 the MVC could potentially poach several current Horizon League schools but nothing is imminent.
"Right now, as far as I know, none of the schools in the Horizon League have been offered invitations to other conferences, so I do know that as a fact," LeCrone said in an interview Wednesday.
"With the recent changes and in this environment there are a lot of conversations going on and there has been some interest expressed by the Missouri Valley in three of our teams. So we're in touch with those schools and we're in touch with those presidents."
"I'm in touch with the Missouri Valley Conference commissioner and we just have to be alert to the fact that we're living in changing times and again the important thing is to be appropriately responsive."
So which schools are possible targets? UWGB Director of Athletics Ken Bothof said his university is happy in the Horizon League.
"I think we're very supportive of the Horizon League and the initiatives within the Horizon League and our fit within the Horizon League," Bothof said.
While men's and women's basketball are the most visible programs, Bothof stated it's important all the athletic programs fit within the Horizon League.
"They all get to compete in conference championships," Bothof said. "They all get to compete for a bid to an NCAA tournament. We've had success in those areas in our other sport programs in those areas. We're close enough that we can travel well geographics. The geographic footprint is good so we like that."
He added his knowledge of any possible movement was limited but he could certainly understand an institution's interest in the MVC.
"I can certainly understand an interest in those schools to say let's explore, let's take a look," Bothof said. "The Missouri Valley once again had some very good success in the men's basketball tournament this year and I'm sure that the Valley is looking at some sort of Chicago connection. From what I understand so I can see both sides of it."
Bothof went on to say, "I always just go back to we can control what we can control. I like where we're at right now. I like the fit that we have and we're going to continue to do everything we can to improve our facilities which I think we have great facilities indoor facilities and have as much success as possible within the league that we're competing in."
While Bothof thinks the Horizon is a good home for the Phoenix athletic programs, he also agreed in the rapidly-changing landscape of big-time college athletics, it's important for athletic departments to maintain an attractive profile for potential suitors.
"I think the brand is very important," Bothof said. "Obviously, I think the winning tradition of that brand is very important. Leagues or conferences are looking at who are the top brands in their league and really at least at our level their looking at who's winning the most basketball games on the men's side and on the women's side and that's your brand that success that you have."
From that perspective Bothof said the Phoenix are in good shape.
"Our women's team has obviously been the strongest brand in the Horizon League for a number of years and we certainly see that continuing," he said. "Our men's, brand we've been working on and I'm excited about the future of our men's brand in college basketball and I really do feel like we have made progress each year."
According to LeCrone, maintaining continuity within the Horizon League, whether it's
Green Bay or another school, is important.
"I think the more stability there is in the conference, the better your growth potential is," LeCrone said. "Your energy shifts in a time like this to spending a lot of energy and frankly money trying to manage departing members and manage entering members and therefore your work focus gets a little bit away from potential growth agenda"
That idea holds water according to Bothof when applied to an individual school.
"Uncertainty is never a real good thing and I think there is a lot of uncertainty now in college athletics," Bothof said. "I think the best thing we can do now, and I try to communicate this to all of our staff, we have to worry about ourselves. Look at our institution look at our programs and what are we doing to get better. I think that's the thing we need to focus on the most is what can we control, what can we do to get better."
What's next remains for the Phoenix remains on the horizon and it appears for the time being remains in the Horizon League.
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