Madness before March.
The Horizon League has banned the University of Illinois Chicago from winter and spring sport conference championships, the league announced Wednesday morning The League Board of Directors had been considering a request from UIC for a special waiver to compete, which was denied.
UIC announced on Jan. 26 its intentions to join the Missouri Valley Conference effective July 1, 2022, after finishing out the year remaining a Horizon League member.
The special waiver regarded Bylaw 188.8.131.52, with UIC pleading for an exception to “the timely notice requirement” when leaving the conference.
The Horizon League Bylaws states schools must, “either provide a reasonable one-year notice of a decision to join another league or lose the privilege of having its teams participate in League championships and potentially carry the Horizon League banner into NCAA tournament competition.”
Under this premise, UIC needed to notify the Horizon League before July 1, 2021, and remain one of the 12 members to preserve championship eligibility for the 2021-22 school year. The statement also said UIC was fully aware of this choice and that the university needed to submit a notice on or before the July 1 a year before departing.
Programs will remain on track to play a full conference schedule and count towards conference standings and keep eligibility for at-large bids for NCAA team championships, as well as student-athletics and coaches viable to earn regular-season awards. The UIC Athletics Department released a statement expressing their anger and frustration over the decision.
“UIC Athletics is outraged by the decision of the 11 Horizon League Presidents to expel its student-athletes from winter and spring sport conference championships,” the statement read. “UIC managed its membership deliberations with the Horizon League in a professional and transparent manner. Upon making its decision to change leagues following the current academic year, UIC reiterated its commitment to a collegial transition and our sole request was that the Horizon League not punish its student-athletes. As a result, UIC now intends to aggressively pursue all avenues to enable its student-athletes to fully participate in their 2022 winter and spring seasons.”
UIC Director of Athletics Michael Lipitz also spoke out, stating “The League is hiding behind its bylaws rather than prioritizing the welfare of students.”
Statement from @Michael_Lipitz on Horizon League's Decision
to Expel Flames Student-Athletes from Conference Championships.
— UIC FL🔥MES ATHLETICS (@uicflames) February 9, 2022
The decision affects 10 programs, including men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and softball.
The timeliness of UIC’s announcement was incidentally detrimental to their own cause. Robert Morris is currently in its second year as a member institution, transitioning from the Northeast Conference during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020.
Since RMU stayed in the NEC and did not announce a decision to leave until after competition ended for the 2019-20 season, they were able to compete in conference tournaments including the men’s basketball program winning the 2020 NEC Tournament at home against St. Francis and punching their ticket to the soon-to-be canceled March Madness.
UIC disclosing their decision to change conferences in the summer rather than the conclusion of winter, when sports schedules ramp up and spring sports are set to begin, would have saved UIC the hassle of fighting for eligibility.
As a result of the league’s decision, 11 teams will compete in the conference tournament. That decision benefits the Colonials, situated one spot below the Flames, and currently would hold the No. 9 spot entering the tournament.
RMU men’s basketball lost at UIC 80-75 on Feb. 3 and will enter the UPMC Events Center to close out the regular-season home finale on Feb. 19. UIC is 8-13 overall and 4-8 in conference action, placing ninth in the Horizon League.