The MVC’s interest in the Flames piqued after Loyola’s departure
UIC is leaving the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley starting in 2022, announcing its departure from the Horizon League at an 11am CT press conference on Wednesday. The move confirms rumors that had been swirling since early December, which began after Loyola left the MVC for the Atlantic 10. The Flames will join the conference alongside Belmont and Murray State.
In past rounds of Missouri Valley realignment, UIC and other Horizon League schools were left in the cold due to a lack of on-court production and a desire from conference members to have an even number of public and private schools. Based on the latest additions, both of those previous rules seem to have gone out the window. UIC hasn’t had the type of consistent on-court success of recent MVC additions like Valparaiso or Belmont. Additionally, both UIC and Murray State are public schools. With Loyola leaving the conference and Belmont joining, the MVC already would have had an even number of public and private schools, so this move shifts the balance toward the public schools by a count of seven to five.
For UIC, all indications are that the team’s Chicago location is the primary factor in its inclusion this time around. Before Loyola’s departure, the Flames weren’t mentioned as an expansion candidate when Belmont’s addition pushed the MVC to 11 teams. Heading into this season, the Flames had gone 63-62 in men’s basketball, and 38-32 in Horizon League play, since the round of MVC realignment where Valparaiso joined the conference in 2017. With this year’s results pulling that overall record under .500, it’s obvious the team isn’t being added for its prowess on the court.
Following UIC’s departure, the Horizon League finds itself with an odd number of teams that likely won’t work long-term with the league’s travel partner scheduling strategy. As a result, the Horizon League is likely to pursue expansion of its own. The league could follow the MVC’s lead and maintain a Chicago presence with Chicago State, it could try to pick off the last Summit League school west of the Mississippi with Western Illinois or it could try to kick the Ohio Valley Conference while it’s down and add Morehead State or Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Alternatively, the Horizon League could make an aggressive move and work to add Northern Kentucky’s former Division II rival Bellarmine, who has been on a stronger trajectory in the ASun than the Norse were after moving to Division I. According to Matt Brown of Extra Points the league has a list of candidates ready in the event that it needed a new member to join, so don’t be surprised if it’s back to 12 members shortly.