There was a moment in time back in the early 1990s when the Horizon League, then the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, counted Philadelphia as one of the cities that the conference could claim as one of its own. That’s because LaSalle had been a member from 1992 to 1995, an overlap between the old era of the MCC and the new era, where the so-called Mid-Con Six of Cleveland State, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wright State, UIC and Northern Illinois came on board. The Explorers, along with Xavier, eventually left for the Atlantic 10.
Now, with conference realignment being all the rage these days, and with a swath of schools weighing their options, it was only natural that the HL, which has been in the churn of realignment since its inception, could be one of the likely suitors. As reported by Matt Brown in his Extra Points newsletter (subscription required), the Coastal Athletic Association’s member schools are in sort of a flux in the aftermath the announced departure of Delaware to Conference USA.
Among the CAA schools that might be on the Horizon League radars? Another Philadelphia school, Drexel.
The Dragons have experienced a resurgence in men’s basketball in recent years, after a considerable lull, having re-appeared in NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years in 2021. Since then, Drexel has finally been let into the fold of the Big Five, a group comprised of Philly’s other D1 schools that include the aforementioned LaSalle, along with Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Penn and Temple. The intra-city rivalry now competes in the revamped Big 5 Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.
On the women’s side, Drexel has been a regular at the top of the CAA standings over the past decade, taking the regular season crown in 2022 and this past year as well. This has culminated into a 2021 NCAA Tourney appearance, along with multiple WNIT invites.
Through the years, we’ve made arguments for multiple schools, including Bellarmine, Murray State and Southern Indiana, to join the Horizon League. As of now, though, none of those schools have taken us up on that invitation (although we’re still holding out hope for Bellarmine).
So, given that conferences are shuffling around again (or rather, they’ve never really stopped shuffling), it’s time for us to make the argument once more why adding Drexel to the HL would be a good idea.
First of all, in spite of the 25-year gap between NCAA Tournament appearances (clearly not a dealbreaker, considering at least two league schools have never been), the Dragons are the fifth-oldest program. Period. With that kind of history, there’s plenty of evidence that Drexel should have no problem fitting into the mix of the top schools.
In addition, for a private school, Drexel is a rather sizable institution, with a reported 24,000-plus student body. That would put the Dragons as the third-largest HL school, behind Milwaukee and IUPUI.
Plus, you have to admit, given the Horizon League’s recent brand reboot that has placed a big spotlight on #MajorCities, adding Philadelphia as one of those cities would be a nice feather in the league’s cap. And, unlike Chicago State or, some would argue, IUPUI, it wouldn’t be a matter of adding a school just to maintain the urban footprint. Drexel has proven, specifically from the standpoint of basketball, to be a competitive force in recent memory and also not afraid to invest.
It also helps that the Dragons are guaranteed at least a couple of big-time games every season, courtesy of the Big 5 Classic.
From a non-revenue sports perspective, the addition of Drexel would add a new member that sponsors men’s and women’s tennis, specifically on the men’s side, which has aligned with the OVC to bring its teams to the fold. With associate members Chicago State and Lindenwood likely departing for their new respective leagues, adding the Dragons would provide a needed buffer.
That said, Drexel would likely need to find a new home for its men’s and women’s lacrosse programs, as well as rowing. To the point of men’s lacrosse, with three HL schools with teams, perhaps it will be one step closer to the Horizon League making the leap to sponsoring the sport.
While all of this makes for a compelling argument, I would be lying if I didn’t have a personal preference for Drexel to come to the Horizon League. There was a time in a former life where I had an interest in pursuing a leadership role in higher education and to accomplish that, I’d need to attain a terminal degree. For a brief moment, I was well on my way, having been accepted to a doctoral program until I ultimately scrapped the idea to follow other career interested.
The school that accepted me into its doctoral program? Drexel.
As with all of the other schools that we’ve arguments for joining the Horizon League, there’s nothing that says Drexel, like the others, would make a serious run to come on board. Even so, bringing a school like this into the mix would certainly be interesting and definitely keep that whole #MajorCities vibe going.