The Horizon League Tournament will transition to a neutral-site format and move to Detroit starting in the 2015-16 season, the league announced Thursday.
The deal with Olympia Entertainment is for five years. Joe Louis Arena, home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, will host the first two tournaments, and the final three years will take place at the Detroit Events Center, which is currently under construction.
“The partnership with Olympia Entertainment is a unique and exciting opportunity,” Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone said. “We want to provide a great tournament experience for all of our key constituents — student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans — and we are excited to work with Olympia and our institutions on that goal.”
The Horizon League Tournament had previously been held at home sites.
Some fans have expressed disinterest in the change to a neutral site. One of the benefits to playing the tournament at home sites is maximizing the chance for high attendance and creating a raucous postseason atmosphere, something that neutral sites do not always provide particularly at the mid-major level.
The home-site format also rewarded teams that succeeded in the regular season with home-court advantage in the conference tournament.
The playing field will now be more even with seeding only affecting matchups and byes.
However, the Horizon League should benefit plenty from this move. The conference is headquartered in Indianapolis, and it will now hold a major presence in another large Midwestern city.
The league announced a branding and marketing effort as part of the agreement and plans to hold league meetings and media events in Detroit in the future.
Moving to a neutral site also resolves the major issue with a home-site tournament. In the old format, games were scattered across the Midwest, and the tournament did not have the vibe of a cohesive event.
With all the teams and games at one site, the Horizon League will be able to market the conference tournament as a major event that could have surrounding events in addition to the actual basketball.
Other media reports on the Horizon League Tournament news:
—NWITimes.com reporter Paul Oren picked Oakland coach Greg Kampe’s brain about the change to a neutral-site. Kampe brought some good perspective as someone who has coached in leagues with neutral-site tournaments before.
—And of course, PantherU had the initial report on the Horizon League considering moving to a neutral site earlier in the week. One source told PantherU the schools overwhelming supported the move in a 7-2 vote, with only UIC and Valparaiso voting against.