Oral Roberts is headed back to its old stomping grounds. The school announced on Thursday that it would be returning to the Summit League effective July 1, 2014. The Golden Eagles are in just their second year as a member of the Southland Conference. Oral Roberts was a member of the Summit League from 1997-2012, capturing six regular season titles and three consecutive tournament titles from 2006-08. Fifteen of the university’s 16 athletic programs made the switch to the Southland Conference before the 2012-13 season in an effort to save on travel costs (ORU is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma). The men’s soccer program remained in the Summit League. However, with the Southland expanding to 14 members, including several football-playing schools (a sport Oral Roberts doesn’t offer), the original objective was no longer plausible. Hence the move back.
Oral Roberts finished third in the Southland Conference behind regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin and eventual NCAA Tournament participant Northwestern State a season ago. The Golden Eagles (the Southland favorites according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings) are off to a 5-3 start in 2013, although the three losses are to Kansas State, Saint Louis and Wisconsin. Oral Roberts gets a resume-boosting shot at Wichita State tonight.
So what does this move mean for the program? First, it gives the Summit League nine teams, which is perfect for a 16-game round-robin schedule. North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Oakland have represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament during the past five seasons, with Oral Roberts carrying the torch the three seasons prior. The league’s last non-play-in game win in the Big Dance came all the way back in 1998, when Valparaiso defeated Ole Miss and Florida State, but that was back when the league was dubbed the Mid-Continent Conference. Next season’s nine teams would include Oral Roberts, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Denver, IPFW, IUPUI, Nebraska-Omaha, South Dakota and Western Illinois.