Former Summit League member Oral Roberts, which was one of the league’s basketball powers before leaving for the Southland in 2012, is coming back home to the Summit, starting next season.
This is excellent news for Denver hoops. The (re-)addition of Oral Roberts gives the Summit League another traditionally respectable member with mid-major street cred, something that its current lineup is, I’m sorry to say, sorely lacking at the moment, outside of new member Denver and a Dakota State or two. So adding the Golden Eagles is very much an instant upgrade.
ORU won the league’s regular season title, or a share of it, in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2012, and achieved automatic NCAA bids in 2006, 2007 and 2008, earning #16 (by the numbers, the best #16 seed ever at the time), #14 and #13 seeds. The Golden Eagles are typically an RPI Top 150 team, if not Top 100; their average season-ending RPI over the last nine years is #109, and they’ve been as high as #51 and #53.
Moreover, for years, Summit League (née Mid-Continent Conference) basketball was defined in significant part by the rivalry between Oakland and Oral Roberts. By the time Denver joined the Summit this season, though, both of those teams had left (as had fellow power Valparaiso, several years earlier, of course). Now ORU is coming back, and if DU ends up staying in the Summit for the long haul, it’s not hard to imagine the Pioneers and Golden Eagles becoming the league’s new dynamic duo, like the Grizzlies and Golden Eagles once were.
One key thing DU and ORU have in common is that they don’t play football. Indeed, concern that the Southland was “becoming a football league” is what drove ORU back into the Summit’s arms, according to North Dakota sports journalist Dom Izzo. It strikes me that the schools’ non-football-playing commonality makes a Denver-Oral Roberts pairing as Summit powers more stable (potentially) than a DU rivalry with, say, North Dakota State — a top FCS football school whose future is inevitably tied to that sport, and to what the Missouri Valley Football Conference does.
More broadly, this is good news because the Summit League — and Denver — are, for once, winners in the realignment musical-chairs game. When Denver bailed out of the imploding WAC, the Summit League was happy to be DU’s landing spot because the Summit itself has been bleeding members — not just Oakland and ORU, but also Southern Utah and, most recently, UMKC (to the WAC, of all places). Now, the Summit is adding a member, and not a bottom-feeder but a top-tier competitor. That’s a really good sign for the conference’s stability.
Having said that, I confess I still hope the Pioneers will eventually end up someplace better, like the WCC or MVC (perhaps after winning an NCAA autobid or 3 during their Summit stint). But if Denver is gonna be in the Summit, at least for a while, it’ll be a much more comfortable home with Oral Roberts in it, basketball-wise at least.
So… anyone up for a road trip? :)