Welcome to the Starting Five, your rundown of the key stories in #HLWBB from the past…however long it took to come up with five stories since the previous Starting Five.
1. Major League
There’s really no doubt about it: it’s been an outstanding couple weeks for the Horizon League, which has churned out three significant positive stories that received mainstream media attention. If I wanted, I could easily commit 60 percent of this post to the league office, but I’m going to cheat a little and shoehorn it all into one entry.
First up, on August 14th, the HL shared what it called a “brand recharge.” The most visible piece of that effort is a new logo, intended to compliment and not replace the existing branding.
A dominant trend in logo design over the last several years is to simplify/”iconify” things as much as possible, and when you think about where you actually see logos most of the time — in the tiny squares and circles of social media timelines, and perhaps on smartphone apps — it makes a ton of sense (naturally, the HL has already starting using the new mark on its socials). Using the Arc-H by itself is a layer of versatility that’s been missing from the conference’s logos which, until now, have always spelled out “Horizon League” in full.
Concurrently, the conference also rolled out a new marketing push, which “emphasizes four key pillars of the Horizon League experience.” Here’s what that entails, in their words:
- Major Cities highlights exposure to entities and experiences unique to major metro cities (professional sports, media, culture, arts, business) in the League’s footprint.
- Major Experiences focuses on NCAA Division I competition and championships and ESPN exposure across the League.
- Major Moves highlights the League’s commitment to innovation and forward-thinking approach to challenges while addressing emerging trends in all aspects of the college sports environment.
- Major Impact emphasizes how our League through our members and student-athletes lead in our metropolitan campus communities and championship host cities.
As long as that means the end of the commercial featuring the inspiring message “our greatest goals are rarely attained,” I’m good with it.
Perhaps we’ll see the Arc-H (my name, but might as well keep running with it) on a piece of Under Armour merch in the near future, as the Horizon League announced a partnership with the athletic apparel giant just two days after the brand recharge. Individual schools, of course, are responsible for their own apparel, but from the HL’s release it seems as though UA’s primary involvement will be through league championship merchandise and sponsorships of both preseason polls and conference player of the week awards.
The final bit of news was something that happens every year, but with a twist this time around. The Horizon League announced its 2023-24 conference schedule on Tuesday, doing away with travel partners in a “modernization” of the process while keeping the broad 20-game double round robin format. HL leadership wisely retained some elements of geographic strategy and cost reduction (teams will still hit both Green Bay and Milwaukee on the same trip, for example), but the conference also sought to limit the length of both road trips and homestands, while also providing at least two days off between games.
2. In scores of other games…
Outside of the league itself, Northern Kentucky was easily the biggest newsmaker this time around, as the Norse have been casually dropping their non-conference schedule one game at a time. They did something similar (though not quite as committed to the bit) back in 2021-22 when they announced games with Eastern Kentucky and Kent State ahead of the rest of the schedule and to be honest, I kind of like it. Why settle for one news hit when you can have seven? If nothing else, it gives me stuff to talk about. Anyway, here’s what we have on Camryn Volz’s (still not used to that) squad so far:
- November 6th vs. Indiana State
- November 11th at Eastern Kentucky
- December 9th vs. Kentucky State
Will NKU wear a crown and come down in a bubble when the play the wicked witches of the east, bro? To be determined, I suppose.
Oh and by the way, Purdue Fort Wayne released their full non-conference schedule since the last time we got together for one of these posts. We already discussed their headlining game against Iowa (which was out earlier than everything else) back then, which sort of pushes the whole thing to afterthought status this time around, though the Dons also have a big-time opening day game at Michigan as well as a trip to Bellarmine to experience some #MerkleMania on December 6th.
3. Gold’s standard at NKU
Sticking with NKU for a bit longer, the Norse shared a “first day of school” photo on Monday that included a casual reveal, as it featured the team’s 2023-24 game jerseys.
The white jerseys should look pretty familiar (though the striping and other accents have been updated, just trust me on that), but the obvious story here is the new yellow jerseys with a brush script “Norse” across the chest. Spicy. Those presumably replace NKU’s black jerseys, which were more or less a straightforward color reversal of the white set, and offer an instant contender in the “HL’s best jerseys” post that I’ll probably never do.
Script is almost always a winner, just ask Money Millie, and I’m very much in favor of schools leaning all the way in their least common primary color. Very few places end up with that instant-association hue like a North Carolina or Texas, but the next-best thing is to stake your claim to an identity that’s as unique as possible, and that almost never involves black. Literally — literally — nine of the 11 Horizon League schools use black fairly prominently in their branding (and it will be ten of 12 when they finally pull the trigger on Chicago State), and seven of those nine wore a black jersey in 2022-23. So, if nothing else, a huge thank you to NKU is in order for brightening up the conference’s palette a bit.
Anyway, inject “Norse” vs. “The Dons” into my veins, if and when it happens.
4. Project Run-away
From the “random stuff I didn’t ever expect to see an article covering” department, apparently some schools find setting up those recruiting photo shoots kind of annoying. You know the genre if you’re at all familiar with what happens on the social media accounts of high school players whenever they visit a potential college destination:
While it might seem trivial at first or, at most, a small price to pay to make sure a coveted recruit enjoys themselves on campus, I suppose there is a point to be made.
To be clear, there’s a pretty wide variance in these sorts of things — the article linked above covered football, which is orders of magnitude worse than basketball in terms of the volume of visits, and the mega-programs will often incorporate video, props, strobe lighting, custom backdrops and other forms of excess. Things around the Horizon League are comparatively much more modest, but still…someone has to bedazzle the ball. The whole coaching staff has to be available at the same time (often easier said than done), and some poor DOBO is likely charged with keeping track of the beads, confetti, trophies, and spare uniforms necessary to pull off a successful shoot. Finally, of course, there are the comms people who have to actually take the pictures and might be responsible for a social graphic or two as well.
Basically, no matter who you are, it’s a lot of effort for something that doesn’t bear fruit 95 percent of the time, and I can’t blame people for internally groaning when it comes up.
5. Chairing is caring
On Monday night, Wright State dropped an announcement that they’re replacing the courtside chairs at the Nutter Center, and are offering the old chairs for sale. According to the Raiders’ comms people, the departing chairs have seen 672 wins, 13 postseason trips, and six NCAA Tournament teams, including the 2014, 2019 and 2021 women’s squads. Just based on the math and the rough time frame involved (mid-2000s to present), it seems like they counted away wins in that 672 number, but whatever.
The chairs cost $50 each and, at the risk of straight-up shilling for WSU, are an incredible buy. For perspective, there’s a company that makes reproductions of similar chairs for the NCAA Tournament and a handful of individual schools — and charges $195 for them. Those are very much fake, and these are very much real. Presumably the university isn’t able to guarantee that Angel Baker or Chelsea Welch used any specific chair, as opposed to some rich donor guy with a smelly butt, but I don’t care what you tell people after the fact, that ain’t my business.