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Robert Morris to Join Horizon League in Most Sports; Football to Big South

Robert Morris to Join Horizon League in Most Sports; Football to Big South

Robert Morris University will accept a bid to move the majority of its collegiate sports teams to the Horizon League, university sources told Pittsburgh Sports Now, with an announcement expected early next week.

The move to leave the Northeast Conference, where the Colonials have had a home since joining Division I in 1981, will happen this year for the 2020-21 athletics season.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports first reported that NEC opponents expected RMU to leave the conference.

RMU will become the 12th school in the Indianapolis-based Horizon League, joining Cleveland State, Wright State and Youngstown State in Ohio, Detroit Mercy and Oakland in Michigan, Northern Kentucky, IUPUI and Fort Wayne in Indiana, Green Bay and Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Illinois-Chicago.

The Colonials will join Fort Wayne as the conference’s 11th and 12th members this fall.

The shift to a Midwestern-based league as opposed to the NEC will save the Colonials slightly on travel expense, with their average distance to a conference opponent shrinking from 408 miles in the NEC to 334 miles in the Horizon League. Youngstown State will be the closest opponent to RMU at about 60 miles from Moon Township.

The existing schools in the conference are all public with the exception of Detroit, and have endowments between $28.7 and $850 million. Robert Morris is a private university with an endowment of $36.3 million as of 2018.

From a men’s basketball perspective, the Colonials will be moving up in Division I. According to KenPom.com, the NEC was 27th amongst conferences in average adjusted efficiency in 2019-20, while the Horizon League was 22nd.

Robert Morris was the No. 207 team in the country in adjusted efficiency in 2019-20, which was third in the NEC, behind St. Francis University and Sacred Heart. It would have been fourth in the Horizon League, behind Wright State, Northern Kentucky and Illinois-Chicago.

RMU’s new UPMC Events Center, which opened in 2019, seats 4,000, will be the smallest men’s basketball arena in the Horizon League. The current league venues range from Cleveland State’s 13,610-seat Wolstein Arena to Oakland’s 4,005-seat Athletics Center O’rena.

The Horizon League sponsors baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field. The Horizon League does not sponsor football and men’s or women’s lacrosse, sports that Robert Morris currently plays in the NEC.

The Colonials football team is expected to move to the Big South Conference, according to multiple Pittsburgh Sports Now sources, though details with that move have not yet been completed. Much like when Monmouth left the NEC in 2013, the NEC did not want to keep RMU as an affiliate member for football.

Robert Morris has already released its 2020 football schedule, with non-conference games against Bowling Green, Dayton and VMI in addition to its NEC opponents. PSN could not confirm the timeframe for football to make the switch and it’s possible the 2020 season could be played in the NEC or as an independent.

The Big South will also be a step up in competition for RMU football. The conference was ranked eighth amongst FCS leagues by Athlon Sports in 2019, two up from the No. 10 NEC. The conference plays at the FCS 63-scholarship maximum, 18 more than the NEC’s 45-scholarship limit.

Compared to the Horizon League and the NEC, it is a worse fit geographically. Robert Morris will join Monmouth in New Jersey, Hampton in Virginia, Campbell and Gardner-Webb in North Carolina, Charleston Southern in South Carolina, Kennesaw State in Georgia and North Alabama. North Carolina A&T is slated to join the conference in 2021.

It’s also unclear at this juncture where the Robert Morris men’s and women’s lacrosse teams will play in the spring of 2021. The Horizon League does not sponsor either sport and the Big South only sponsors women’s lacrosse. RMU’s men’s and women’s hockey teams and women’s rowing team will not be impacted by the move.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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