Why Bellarmine University makes sense for the Horizon League

Now that Bellarmine University has gone Division I, speculation of renewed rivalry between NKU and BU is out of control. Having Bellarmine on the Norse’ schedule once, twice, or maybe even THREE times in a season would bring back feelings of nostalgia not often felt by Norse fans.


The Next School Up?

Imagine the first baseball game you ever watched in person was the 2003 ALCS. Aaron Boone steps up to the plate and crushes that ball high into the left field nosebleeds. The Yankees win. “THEEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES… WIN!” The crowd goes wild. People are hugging each other. Beer and popcorn are raining down on everyone in attendance. You’d be hooked, wouldn’t you? You’d be a baseball fan (most likely a Yankees fan) for life–I imagine.

This was my exact experience on February 22, 2012 when I watched the NKU Norse play The Bellarmine Knights for the last time in the Division II era.

Now that Bellarmine University has gone Division I, speculation of a renewed rivalry between NKU and BU is out of control. Having Bellarmine on the Norse’ schedule once, twice, or maybe even THREE times in a season would bring back feelings of nostalgia not often felt by Norse fans. With the addition of Purdue-Fort Wayne, I don’t think it’s a secret that the Horizon League at least has to consider adding another school to the conference. The Horizon league is a travel partner league, and with 11 teams now–it really muddies the waters on how we all will navigate through what used to be a pretty straight-forward conference schedule. We need to add a school. My thought is, why not Bellarmine? Obviously, there are a lot of factors that have to be considered, and luckily for our readers–I think I have the more important ones covered! In this article, we will discuss what I believe to be the most important things that will have to be considered when discussing whether or not Bellarmine would get the nod to join the league: money & location.


I would be remiss if I went any further in this article without giving a shoutout to my fellow Norse Report co-owner, founder Chris Hart (@chrishart_NR) for doing A TON of this research for me. I wrote the outline for this article, and Chris went out and dug up pretty much exactly what I needed to make my case. So let’s begin, shall we?


Bellarmine is actually in a pretty good situation when it comes to their endowments. For those who don’t know (and it’s totally understandable) what an endowment is, basically it’s the pool of investments that is comprised of: donations, real estate, and general investments by the university. To simplify it even more–it’s an indicator of how much money the University has. Think of net worth. That’s a good comparison.

Anyway, digging in–Bellarmine’s endowment is about $52 million, which would rank 9th in the Horizon league, leading PUFW, Mercy and Wisconsin-Green Bay. I know 9th out of 12 isn’t this amazing, sexy number, but let’s consider two points when thinking about this: 

1. They come straight from D2 into our league and would be in the 25th percentile for endowments and;
2. As only 1 of 2 private schools in the league, they would immediately come in and rank higher than their private school counterpart, Detroit Mercy. 


In 2017-18 their athletics budget was on par with some lower-level Division I programs at about $8.57 million per year. So although they are a Division II school, they currently spend like a DI school and have proven success doing so. 

Just for a point of reference with how this compares to the league, based on 2018 numbers provided: Oakland’s budget was about $9.5 million, Wright State’s was about $10.1 million and NKU’s was about $9.1 million. Granted, they’d come into the conference with a lower budget than the rest of the league, however it would surely increase very rapidly with the move to DI and coming into a much stronger league in the Horizon than the Atlantic Sun.

Enrollment and Tuition

This would be the area where Bellarmine might not seem like as good a fit, at least on paper. As a private, Catholic university, Bellarmine’s tuition is quite high. In fact, at $40,250 per year, it is 4x higher than Northern Kentucky’s. Also, with just under 4,000 students, they would be the smallest school in the league–about 20% smaller than the next smallest, which would be Detroit Mercy. These all sound like negatives, and I get it, but I needed to paint the full picture of their financial situation. The enrollment and tuition numbers certainly don’t do Bellarmine any favors when it comes to fitting in to the Horizon League. But when you consider their endowments and their budget–they could fit in just fine. Not convinced? I get it.. Those enrollment numbers are weird. I would be a little concerned, too. In fact, I was. Until I did some research and found this.

What’s this table? Good question. This table shows the enrollment numbers of a school in the fall of 2012, which was only 4,539 — about 600 more students than Bellarmine. Still not convinced? Oh, right. I should mention that these numbers belong to Butler University, another private and Christian university and 2012 was their last year in the Horizon league. 

So if you think that enrollment numbers MATTER, then please reference Butler and get back to me.

“…It’s who you travel with.”

Another key factor that has to be considered when looking into adding a team to the league must be the physical location of their campus. Let’s look at the last 3 teams to join the league… Northern Kentucky, IUPUI (Indianapolis) and Purdue Fort Wayne–all located within a 150-mile radius of Indianapolis, the conference’s headquarters. Something else that the Horizon League seems to value are cities with large media markets. All of the programs in our conference play in a top 125 media market, with 9 of them in the top 70, 7 of those in the top 40, and 4 of those in the top 20. Also, in a travel partner league, location matters a ton. As Charles Schultz said, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going, it’s who you travel with.”

A Sizeable Market

Bellarmine U. is in a prime location for Horizon League expansion. Their placement in Louisville gives the league access to another great major media market. In fact, large cities seem to be something that this league values. We have a school in Chicago, two schools in the greater-Detroit area, a school in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Adding Louisville to that list would bring even more credibility to the league in terms of their market size. Louisville ranks as the 27th largest city/metro in the country with over 605,000 people. (based on 2012 numbers). They also come in as the 48th ranked media market, which would put them about right in the middle of the Horizon League. For fans reference, here’s what the rankings would look like if BU were to be added:


Detroit MercyDetroit14
Cleveland St.Cleveland19
Wright StateDayton64
UW-GBGreen Bay-Appleton67
PU-FWFort Wayne104
Youngstown StateYoungstown125

I know that in the digital age and with ESPN+, the media markets don’t matter as much as they used to, but they definitely still matter in terms of overall coverage. Good programs in large cities get more coverage, and therefore, more eyeballs.

New Travel Partner Structure

However, I think the even more interested component is how the travel partners could be structured. The way it’s set up now is as follows:

Program 1Program 2Miles ApartTime Apart
MilwaukeeGreen Bay1141:42
Detroit MercyOakland27.4:34
NKUWright St.721:04
Cleveland State Youngstown St.751:13

Purdue – Fort Wayne

So with Fort Wayne just kind of hanging out there by themselves, the honest question has to be asked, what would make the most sense for a partnership? Do we base it off proximity? Do we take into account potential and future rivalries? Do we consider the current strength of the existing travel partner rivalry? I don’t know the full answer, but here are some scenarios that I could see playing out. First of all, nothing would change with Cleveland State-Youngstown State, Milwaukee-Green Bay or Detroit Mercy-Oakland. The teams that, in my opinion, would make the most sense to be shuffled up would be: UIC, IUPUI, Wright State and NKU, along with of course Fort Wayne and Bellarmine. 

Looking at the map, it’s easy to see a few scenarios that make sense. UIC and IUPUI would almost have to remain travel partners as the next closest university to Chicago would be Fort Wayne, at about 160 miles (3 hours) away followed by Bellarmine at about 300 miles (4:40) away.

So if you moved forward and kept UIC and IUPUI paired, then you have to restructure NKU, Wright State, Fort Wayne and Bellarmine. With Bellarmine being about 230 miles (3:45) away from Fort Wayne, it makes the most sense to pair them with former in-state DII rival, NKU. Northern Kentucky and Bellarmine are only 100 miles apart. Fort Wayne and Dayton are only 130 miles apart. I think this definitely bring about a positive change for the league in terms of location and, if I can be selfish, it adds a VERY interesting rivalry element for Northern Kentucky.

If not Bellarmine, then who?

Other names that have been kicked around as potential suitors for the Horizon League have included: Robert Morris, Grand Canyon University and Southern Illinois Edwardsville. Even another one of Bellarmine/NKU’s former GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference — Division II) rivals has been mentioned as a suitor. There has been chatter that University of Southern Indiana (near Evansville) might be looking to move to DII, and the Horizon is a conference that they’d have their eyes on.

But at this point in time, I really can’t see a better fit than Bellarmine, for all of the reasons mentioned in this article. 

USI is still DII.

I don’t have much interest in Robert Morris.

I don’t have much interest in SIU-Edwardsville.

I have NO interest in Grand Canyon.

For me, it’s Bellarmine, or bust.

Then again….. Northern Kentucky could make this very easy and just leave?

In Kyle’s next article, he will outline where Northern Kentucky University could go, and where he thinks the best fit would be.

Kyle Craven is a co-owner, writer, podcaster and contributor to the Norse Report (www.norsereport.com). He will be writing for the HoriZone Roundtable in 2019-20 on behalf of Northern Kentucky University.

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