ORU in last year before move to Southland Conference
BY MIKE BROWN World Sports Writer
Thursday, January 05, 2012
1/05/12 at 4:46 AM
ORU blog: Former ORU
standout Caleb Green honored
by Summit League.
Related Story: ORU faces tough competition in last Summit League season
Joining a new conference in 1997 wasn't a convenience for the Oral Roberts University athletic program. It was a necessity.
After spending two years at the NAIA level (1989-91), the Golden Eagles were trying to make a comeback as a Division I independent.
But qualifying for postseason play was becoming increasingly more difficult with new mid-major conferences soaking up automatic NCAA qualifying berths in the various sports.
"It was almost impossible to qualify on an at-large basis. Being in a conference was the only way to go," said former ORU head coach Barry Hinson, now director of men's basketball operations at the University of Kansas.
A new era dawned on Sept. 17, 1996, as ORU athletic director Mike Carter announced the Eagles were joining the Mid-Continent Conference. Over a 15-year span, the conference would be renamed The Summit League and ORU athletic teams would capture 134 conference titles (and counting).
That era is coming to end. ORU is playing its final year in the Summit League before moving to the Southland Conference later this year.
ORU's last Summit League basketball season continues Thursday when North Dakota State visits. NDSU (10-3, 3-1) has the look of a conference contender after ripping two-time Summit champion Oakland 96-69 behind Taylor Braun's 21 points last Friday.
ORU (12-4, 4-0) will try to extend a five-game winning streak and set up a first-place showdown when South Dakota State visits Saturday. The Jackrabbits, also unbeaten in league play, visit Southern Utah on Thursday night.
Joining a conference changed everything for ORU athletics in 1997, Carter said.
"Playing as an independent was extremely difficult," Carter said. "It was hard to recruit because the kids didn't have a conference championship or an automatic berth to play for and they couldn't play for all-conference honors.
"You couldn't build a schedule and it was hard to sell tickets because you couldn't develop rivalries. The year we went 18-9 (under former head coach Bill Self), our schedule was all over the place. We had to do something," Carter said.
Carter had conversations with then-Southland commissioner Britton Banowski (now Conference USA commissioner). Carter and former ORU president Richard Roberts made a presentation in Dallas, but the Texas-based league ultimately wasn't interested in expanding beyond its borders at the time.
The Southland became more interested when the Western Athletic Conference plucked member schools UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio and Texas State in the latest football realignment shuffle. ORU became the Southland's newest member on Oct. 25.
Back in 1996 and a few months after ORU's flirtation with the Southland, Carter met with Mid-Con commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher (current Mid-American Conference commissioner).
Carter was wary of potentially burgeoning travel costs in a league with the University of Buffalo (N.Y.) and Central Connecticut State, but both schools were gone by the end of ORU's first year in the league.
Self, current University of Kansas head coach, cheered the move.
At the time, he said: "I believe the (Mid-Con) affiliation ... allows us to recruit a better student-athlete."
Self guided ORU to an NIT berth in its final season as a basketball independent (1996-97) and left for the University of Tulsa the following year. His first assistant took over, and Hinson led the Eagles to a share of the regular-season conference title in their first Mid-Con season.
ORU’S SUMMIT LEAGUE TIMELINE
September 1996: ORU accepts an invitation to join the Mid-Continent Conference, effective July 1, 1997. The league has nine members in the 1997-98 academic year, with new schools ORU and Southern Utah joining Buffalo, Chicago State, UMKC, Northeastern Illinois, Valparaiso, Western Illinois and Youngstown State.
June 2003: Tulsa Sports Commission is approved to host the 2005 conference basketball championships at renovated Expo Square Pavilion. The venue is later changed to the new Union Multipurpose Activity Center, and Tulsa eventually hosts for four years, with ORU winning three men's and three women's titles.
March 2006: Ken Tutt scores 25 points as ORU downs Chicago State 85-72 in the Mid-Con final at the UMAC, clinching the school's first NCAA Tournament berth in men's basketball in 22 years.
May 2007: Mid-Con changes its name to The Summit League, meant to evoke the idea of striving for the top "academically and athletically," conference commissioner Tom Douple says.
June 2007: Sioux Falls, S.D., is approved to host conference basketball championships in 2009 and 2010 and receives additional commitments through 2014 after drawing an all-session record 34,681 spectators in 2009 and over 30,000 each of the next two years.
May 1998: ORU downs Valparaiso 12-10 to capture its first of 14 consecutive conference baseball titles, tied for the second-longest streak in NCAA history. In 2006, ORU becomes the first conference baseball member to reach the NCAA Super Regional.
May 1998: In its first year of conference participation, ORU wins its first of nine Commissioner's Cups. The award is given to the league's most successful overall athletic program in a given year. In 1997-98, the Eagles win or share Mid-Con titles in men's soccer, women's volleyball, women's indoor track, women's tennis and men's and women's golf. ORU also tied for the regular-season men's basketball title.
May 2006: Valparaiso announces its move to the Horizon League in 2007 after dominating the Mid-Con in basketball during the 1996-04 seasons with seven NCAA appearances. The departure continues a revolving-door trend for the conference, which has been home to 28 schools over the years.
October 2011: ORU announces its departure from the Summit League to join the Southland Conference. The new conference has members in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. School officials say the move will enhance ORU's visibility within the region, reduce travel costs, and place the school's flagship baseball program in one of the nation's most competitive baseball conferences.
North Dakota State at Oral Roberts
NDSU (10-3, 3-1)
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F ||Bjorklund ||6-8|| 12.2 ||6.9|
|F ||Wright ||6-7 ||8.3|| 6.1|
|G ||Alexander ||6-3|| 12.4|| 5.4*|
|G ||Braun|| 6-7|| 14.1|| 6.8|
|G ||Hale ||6-1|| 6.9 ||2.3*|
ORU (12-4, 4-0)
|Ht. ||Pt.|| Reb.|
|F ||Craion|| 6-5|| 10.7|| 6.9|
|F ||Morrison|| 6-6|| 18.4|| 4.4|
|C ||Bell-Holter ||6-9 ||7.6|| 5.9|
|G ||Niles|| 6-4|| 11.1|| 3.5|
|G ||Pearson|| 6-1 ||7.7 ||3.6*|
*assists per game
Original Print Headline: So long, Summit League
Mike Brown 918-581-8390
ORU's Ken Tutt (left), Larry Owens and Caleb Green rush the court after winning the Mid-Continent Conference tournament title in 2006. Above left, ORU athletic director Mike Carter shows off some of the school's conference honors in 1998. Tulsa World file photo