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Horizon Commissioner Jon LeCrone

February 11, 2004 Columns No Comments

An Interview with Horizon League Commissioner Jonathan LeCrone

by Bill Kintner

In this installment of my coverage of the Horizon League, the Big Cheese weighs in on league expansion. With all the speculation concerning potential expansion I thought it was time to get some answers. Jon LeCrone is certainly the man with the answers.

Bill Kintner: A year ago you predicted a lot of changes in conference memberships and you were right. How will that effect the Horizon League?

Photo Courtesy Horizon League
Jon LeCrone: Well, with regard to all the membership changes, I think that as far as our league is concerned, if anything would happen, I think it’s all going to be positive. As these leagues continue the reconfiguration, what you might find – particularly in men’s basketball – is some slippage in their power ratings. If we’ll just stay where we are, keep after it and keep working hard from an RPI standpoint, you know we might jump over some of those leagues.

The other thing that I think can happen is as the leagues continue to reconfigure is that might cause members of those leagues who have lost a substantial number of members to begin to rethink their own league affiliation. I think our league continues to be an attractive alternative for some of the other league members. But I still think all that remains to be seen. I don’t think all of the movement is quite finished up yet and I think you might see some additional movement in teams moving, perhaps, to the Mountain West from, say, Conference USA so there might be some additional impact at Conference USA. There could be some additional impact to the Sun Belt. Could be some additional impact to the Western Athletic. We’ll just keep watching that very, very carefully.

But the good news for us is that none of our schools are interested in moving out of our league to join these reconfigured leagues. They want to stay in our league and make it stronger. And like I said, I think both of those things are positive. So it either means we grow by continuing to make ourselves better; also it could mean that we could grow by virtue of adding some members. But I think all that will become clearer in the next, oh, six months or so.

Kintner: How is it that the Horizon League gotten to the point where it is so strong that every school is on the same page and no one is wanting out? How did we get to that point?

LeCrone: I think, it might sound kind of trite, but it’s about the people. And I think our coaches are committed to the league; they’re committed to their schools, as our presidents are. As our AD’s are. I think the credit really goes to them. You build very good organizations by good people and I think we have good people who are committed to the kind of a common idea and that our league works geographically; it works athletically; it works from a budget standpoint and it works academically. So, there are a lot of similarities, a lot of compatibility. I think that’s what holds us together. So what they see now is they see Butler have success; they’ve seen UIC have success; they’ve seen Detroit have success; they’ve seen Milwaukee now have success. Turn the clock back five years ago and that wasn’t the case.

I think everybody in the league now says, “Hey, wait a minute. By golly, if Butler can do it and Detroit can do it, Milwaukee can do it, and UIC can do it, then we can do it.” That’s because we are so similar. So that gives everybody great hope. So that makes everybody who’s kind of in men’s basketball and been finishing 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 say, “Hey, we can do that. It was just a few years ago that UIC finished 7th or 8th and so did Milwaukee. Now look where they are.” I mean they are in the tournament, they’re in the NIT – Milwaukee almost beat Notre Dame so that dream is out there for everybody and they can do it.

Kintner: As you consider potential additions, additional schools added to the league, what are the criteria that the Horizon League looks at?

LeCrone: I think I just mentioned the basic ones. I mean, I think there has to be geographic compatibility, there has to be athletic compatibility, there has to be a similarity in the institutional mission, and there has to be budget compatibility – and that’s what we have right now in our league. I don’t see us going way outside of our geographic boundaries. I don’t see us going outside our financial boundaries in terms of a range of budgets for our schools. I don’t think we’ll go out and get an institution that just is totally dissimilar to all our members. And we’re not going to go get somebody whose sports don’t line up with our sports offerings. I think you have to have all four of them. If you do have all four, you have a very attractive candidate. If you don’t, it is probably not as an attractive candidate.

Kintner: What’s the process for looking at schools? Do you have a committee that has picked out schools that you’re considering and then people come to you? You use two ways, right?

LeCrone: Both ways. I mean we’ll have a membership committee. Ultimately all these decisions are made at our presidential level. But we do have an active, engaged membership committee – works on these things a lot. I talk to them a lot on the phone. Mike Cusack, the AD at Wright State, is the Chairman of the committee and he works very hard on these kinds of things. Of course, we have a list of schools that we might be interested in and there are schools that contact us pretty regularly to inquire about our interest. And that’s what we do. We talk about it and I think the one thing we try to do is try to do it in a quiet, professional, dignified way. I think that’s the way you do business.

You don’t want to, I certainly don’t want to, get our league too far out in front of our processes and at the same time I don’t want to get any of the institutions that might have expressed interest into a problem with their own institutional governing system or their own league because we’re not in the business of trying to destabilize other leagues. I don’t think that’s good for the enterprise and so that’s not the way we want to conduct our business. We want to try to do it in a quiet, professional, dignified way so, if someone does choose to move we can do it in kind of a systematic way. So it works for everybody.

Kintner: Last year Marshall approached the Horizon League and it looks like there was serious consideration of Marshall. What went on with that episode?

LeCrone: I think Marshall expressed a sincere interest in our league. I think where it really got cumbersome is – and you know Marshall has now moved into Conference USA – I think that our people really thought that if Marshall did come in, it would probably be for a short-term period of time. And, I think that in terms of our interest, where it began to not be as attractive – Marshall is a fine institution and they’ll be a great addition to Conference USA – but you know, I think, at the time, we were looking for schools that wanted to have a long-term commitment. And I think at onset we thought maybe Marshall would want to be with us in the long-term, but the more we found out about it, it was probably going to be a short-term kind of arrangement. And I think that’s where it kind of fell apart at the end, but I frankly thought Marshall was a very good fit in the Mid-American Conference but they’ll do well in Conference USA as well.

Kintner: Where does basketball fit in the equation versus the other sports when considering a school for membership?

LeCrone: Well, basketball certainly is important. I would hope that any perspective member we might have would add some amount of national success and prestige to the league because it’s very important to us. So, I think some modicum of national basketball success would be important as we sorted through things.

Kintner: I’m winding down here. Is there a time frame that you like to extend an offer to another team or is it just open as things come?

LeCrone: I don’t think so. I think the time frame is always probably more important to the perspective member than it is to us. Frankly, we can make it work on a short time frame or a longer time frame. I think what we try to pay attention to and help the perspective member is, what works for you? What works for you in terms of your current league? What works for you in terms of your institution? I think that’s the way we try to approach it; is take their needs primarily because, frankly, if it doesn’t get too late in a given year, we can generally make it work.

Kintner: Last question. One thing that is unique about the Horizon League is the mission for the Horizon League. Can you talk a little bit about the mission; explain to readers what you see as the mission of our Horizon League?

LeCrone: When you talk about mission, I think you talk about things that we all believe in and, I’m not sure it’s as special as it is just understood. We have pretty good (what we call) organizational understanding about it. But I think what we believe in and try to pursue is we believe in the value of competition. That’s number one. It goes back to our people. I mean competition is important. That means winning’s important. Not winning at all cost, but competition. That is number one.

Number two, we are operating in an educational arena here. At the end of the day, through competition, some learning has to go on. That’s another thing we believe in; education’s important. We want you to perform as an athlete in the classroom. And then the last two kinds of notions we talked about is it’s very important that we compete; it’s very important that we learn – but it’s also important how we do those things. And to do those things with class and dignity and being good role models, I think that’s important.

And then, finally, I think one of the real important things that you learn – and certainly college is not too early nor too late – is you have to make the place you are a better place. How do you do that? You’ve got to give it back to people. Whether that’s giving back to your teammates, giving back to your athletic department, giving back to your school, your state, your region, your world – however small, however large – you’ve got to give something back. If you do all those things, if you give back to people, if you behave in a certain way, if you learn, and if you compete – that forms a pretty good framework for becoming a productive citizen. I think that’s why I’m in the business. But more importantly I think that’s why our coaches coach and our AD’s do what AD’s do and why people are in higher education. So that’s what it’s about.

Kintner: That’s a take! Thank you very much.

LeCrone: You are welcome!


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