Northern Kentucky will join the Horizon League as the conference’s 10th member, the league announced Monday. The move will be effective July 1.
The announcement follows reports from last week that said the Norse were set to leave the Atlantic Sun for the Horizon League.
“We made the move to Division I in order to align with similar aspirational institutions,”Northern Kentucky President Geoffrey Mearns said in a statement. “The Horizon League member schools are located in areas that are ideal for student recruitment. In fact, seven of the nine schools are located within 300 miles of NKU’s main campus. The future of Norse athletics is bright, and the Horizon League is an excellent fit.”
Northern Kentucky has had a Division I men’s basketball program for only three seasons, but the school has showed promise. The Norse finished .500 in the Atlantic Sun twice and had their best overall season in 2014-15, going 13-17.
“The Horizon League is an outstanding basketball conference with tremendous coaches and proven winning programs,” coach John Brannen said. “I think this provides us an opportunity to continue to grow the brand of NKU basketball. The Horizon League will also provide NKU with added national TV exposure and a stronger geographic footprint that always helps in recruiting and developing rivalries.”
As a basketball-minded school, Northern Kentucky fits the Horizon League profile. Adding the school also brings the Horizon League into the Cincinnati market and gives Wright State a natural in-conference rival.
“Northern Kentucky University’s mission, vision and values align with the Horizon League,” said commissioner Jon LeCrone in a release. “The Horizon League is adding a well-respected, growing athletics program and an aspirational university.”
Northern Kentucky loses leading scorer Tayler Persons and underwent a coaching change following last season, bringing in Brannen, a former Alabama assistant, as its new head coach. However, with four starters returning from a competitive team, the Norse can be competent in the Horizon League next season.