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Robert Morris joins Horizon League, brings quality basketball programs

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Horizon League is growing again, and as a result, it will get a bit deeper in men's basketball.

The league announced Monday that Robert Morris University, out of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, will join the league for the 2020-21 school year, leaving the Northeast Conference.

That brings the Horizon League to 12 schools, with Purdue-Fort Wayne set to start play in the league this coming year, as well. The Horizon League added IUPUI in 2017.

The Robert Morris men's basketball team won the Northeast Conference tournament championship last season.

Robert Morris brings men's and women's basketball, men's and women's soccer, volleyball, women's cross country, women's indoor and outdoor track and field, men's golf and softball to the Horizon League. It will need to find other homes for football, men's and women's hockey, men's and women's lacrosse, and women's rowing. The Horizon League doesn't sponsor those sports.

“We are excited to welcome Robert Morris University to the Horizon League family,” Horizon League commissioner Jonathan B. LeCrone said in a statement. “The Colonials align with the Horizon League’s mission, vision and core values. Their addition brings competitive potential, especially in men’s basketball, the engaged and vital communities of Moon Township and Greater Pittsburgh, and membership diversity. Their addition positions the Horizon League perfectly for the future.”

Robert Morris expands the Horizon League's footprint, now at eight states throughout the Midwest, including Michigan, with Oakland and Detroit Mercy.

Robert Morris officials and Horizon League officials have discussed this possibility for several years, but there had been some hesitations.

Robert Morris, in May 2019, opened the 4,000-seat UPMC Events Center, where several teams play, including the basketball teams.

Robert Morris' men's basketball team has appeared in the postseason nine times over the last 13 years, and four times in that span has qualified for the NCAA Tournament (2009, 2010, 2015, 2020). Its addition could, someday, help make the Horizon League be what it most wants to be — a multi-bid basketball conference. That'll be contingent, of course, on others in the league, particularly Northern Kentucky, Wright State, Oakland and even UIC, which made a splash this offseason by hiring Luke Yaklich as head coach.

“We’re extremely excited to be joining the Horizon League," said Andy Toole, men's basketball coach. "It’s a well-respected and competitive league from top to bottom, and I know our student-athletes are excited to be able to compete against high-level competition.

"We can’t wait to get started.”

There are complications to expanding the league, particularly if the league decides to move to a 22-game conference basketball schedule. That would leave only nine open dates for nonconferencing scheduling, only six of which would be buy-game eligible (after preseason tournaments). That would limit the flexibility of teams that are aggressive in scheduling big-named Power Five schools, like Oakland and Detroit Mercy.

Meanwhile, Robert Morris women's basketball program has an even more-decorated resume, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament seven times in the last 14 years.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984