From his fifth floor office at the Pan Am Plaza in downtown Indianapolis, Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone sees opportunity for his conference despite the departure of Butler University. Butler announced Wednesday that the Bulldogs will leave the Horizon League to join the Atlantic 10 conference starting with the 2013-14 school year.
"I'll miss working with them," said LeCrone, in his 20th year with the Horizon League. "Butler is a founding member of our league. It's been a great pleasure to watch the growth of their program."
The Horizon League moved its headquarters to Indianapolis in 1984. The league offices have been across the street from the Indiana Convention Center since 1987. LeCrone says the league is staying put and will continue to co-host NCAA events in Indianapolis like the Final Four, perhaps still partnering with Butler or other local schools.
"It's been a great home for us," said LeCrone. "The community has helped build our league. Now with the NCAA (headquarters) here, it's just the right place for us to be."
The Horizon League has nine members without Butler: private schools Valparaiso, Detroit, and Loyola; and public universities Wright State, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay. LeCrone has overseen the league through other transitions with as many as 13 members, and as few as six. He is excited for the opportunities for expansion.
"I think we'll move quickly," said LeCrone. "But we're not going to hurry. We're going to be thoughtful. We're going to be deliberative."
LeCrone says his goal is to build more programs, among current or new member schools, that have the ability to earn at-large invitations to the NCAA basketball tournament. The Horizon League does not sponsor football. So basketball, men's and women's, is critical to the league's financial success and status.
Butler earned at-large bids to the NCAA tourney. But the Bulldogs are leaving the league they helped start, originally called the Midwestern Cities Conference, then the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
"I've never believed that our league was defined by one member," said LeCrone. "I think we've always been defined by our collective whole. Every time we've gone through periods of uncertainty, we've had this extraordinary growth spurt. So I think that's what we're heading into. I think it's going to be pretty exciting for us."