Robert Morris president Chris Howard and athletic director Chris King have a 1 p.m. announcement on Monday, and they’re expected to announce that the Colonials are moving to the Horizon League after calling the Northeast Conference their only Division I home since 1981.
The move had been talked about for years, but under the leadership of King, who took the reins just over a year ago as RMU’s athletic director, the Colonials are finally making the jump to a higher-level league.
Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Alan Saunders and Mike Vukovcan will be attending Monday’s live press conference at UPMC Events Center with Howard and King and will have full coverage afterward.
Here are some of the pressing questions that remain with RMU’s move to the Horizon League in most sports and the Big South in football:
How will it sell?
For the last few years, the focus of RMU’s athletic department has been finishing the 4,000-seat UPMC Events Center. Now that the facility opened last November, the focus needs to be on filling it. RMU sold out the building just twice last year: the opener against Pitt and the NEC championship game. In between, the school announced attendance of fewer than 1,000 people three times.
The Horizon League has better teams than the NEC, but the likes of Northern Kentucky and Wright State are still not glamorous opponents. How can the Colonials have greater success at the gate?
What will a Midwestern league mean for RMU hoops?
Head coach Andy Toole is a New Jersey native and a Penn alum. Assistants Dave Fedor (Hamilton, N.J.), Mike Iuzzolino (Altoona, Pa.), and Shane Southwell (Harlem, N.Y.) also all hail from the NEC footprint.
That doesn’t mean they haven’t gotten players from the Midwest. Star guard Jon Williams is from Akron, Ohio and wing Cameron Wilbon is from Gary, Indiana. But will the change mean fewer players from the Northeast will see RMU as a viable option, and if so, does that matter?
Can this help stop the transfer parade?
Over the last few years, it has seemed like there were more former RMU basketball players in Division I than there were current ones. With lessened restrictions on transfers, the NEC and RMU in particular were hard-hit with players moving upward. Can moving to a higher-profile league help stem that tide? Could it also help RMU hang onto Toole, who has been and certainly will be again a candidate for bigger jobs?
How will football handle the move to the Big South?
Of all the teams impacted by the conference change, the football team might have the toughest jump to make. The move to the Big South will come with greatly increased travel, additional scholarships and likely facilities investments in order to keep pace with the league. How does RMU plan to stay competitive in a sport that struggled in the NEC for most of the last decade?
What is going to happen with lacrosse?
RMU’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are temporarily homeless, as the Horizon League does not offer the sports. Horizon foes Detroit Mercy and Youngstown State are joining the MAC for women’s lacrosse in 202o-21. Detroit Mercy is in the MAAC for men’s lacrosse, while Cleveland State is an independent.
Will the move come with increased revenue in the form of conference disbursements?
RMU will not just be taking a step up from the NEC and Horizon League in basketball, but in golf, soccer, softball, track and field and volleyball, too. Will the move to a higher-level league come with addition funding sources to field more-competitive teams across the board? If not, how does RMU expect to stay competitive across the board?