Geographic reasons behind move to Horizon League


Tori Lentz

President Mearns announced Monday that NKU Athletics will move to the Horizon League. The move becomes effective July 1.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously Monday to add NKU to the Horizon League conference effective July 1.

NKU Athletics will make the move for the 2015-16 season to cut down on travel time for student athletes, give fans more chances to see the Norse and cut costs for the future.

President Geoffrey Mearns said the move fits with NKU’s strategic plan to promote the university and recruit students in the region. The Horizon League’s deal with ESPN will provide visibility for NKU Athletics according to Mearns.

“Being a member of the Horizon League will increase public awareness about NKU across Ohio, and in some of the nation’s top media markets,” Mearns said.

Last week the Horizon League approached NKU about entering the conference, according to Mearns. NKU submitted an application to the league Friday and was accepted Saturday.

Athletic Director Ken Bothof said that the transition to the Horizon League provides a geographic fit, as schools in the league are located in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. There are seven Horizon League institutions located within 300 miles of NKU.

“What this means for us is certainly reduced travel time for our coaches, but most importantly for our student-athletes,” Bothof said. “This will lead to a good reduction of missed class time for our student-athletes.”

According to Bothof, the move will create an estimated savings of $255,000 annually. NKU Athletics is expecting increased ticket sales from alumni and nearby opponents who will travel to competition at NKU. More than 14,000 alumni live within the Horizon League footprint.

“This will certainly help us with the agreement that we pay out the initiation fee into the Horizon League over the next four years,” Bothof said.

Student Regent John Jose said the Norse Force is excited for new rivalries that will develop in the Horizon League conference.

“I expect to see more students than ever at our home games next year and it’ll be great to see the university organizing bus trips to road games,” Jose said. “The Norse Force has been hungry for this kind of opportunity and the geographic fit of the Horizon League will make it a reality.”

NKU will join the likes of Cleveland State University, the University of Detroit Mercy, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Oakland University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Valparaiso University, Youngstown State University, and closest competitor Wright State University.

Currently concluding its third year in Division I, NKU began transitioning in 2012 as part of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Until the 2014-15 season NKU wasn’t eligible for post-season play, which was made possible by the NCAA and A-Sun changing eligibility rules. So far under the change the men’s and women’s soccer teams and volleyball team both made it to the second round of their tournaments, the men’s basketball team was eliminated in the first round and the women’s basketball team made it to the semifinals of their tournament.

Bothof, who came to NKU in the second year of the transition, has a history with the Horizon League, coming from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where he served as athletic director from 2002-2013.