Monday, October 2, 2023

Horizon League slams Illinois-Chicago, but will allow Flames to play in its conference tournament after all

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The Horizon League announced Tuesday that Illinois-Chicago will be eligible to compete for league championships this season after all in a reversal of the league’s earlier decision made in accordance with conference bylaws for exiting teams. That means the Flames will participate in the Horizon League Tournament next month despite the fact that they are leaving for the Missouri Valley Conference next season.

Horizon League bylaws call for departing to schools to give a one-year notice to the league office. Schools that don’t give that amount of notice are ineligible for league tournaments, per conference bylaws. Illinois-Chicago announced Jan. 25 that it is joining the Missouri Valley Conference for the 2022-23 academic year, which did not meet the Horizon League’s notice requirement. 

But the Horizon League was met with intense backlash from UIC when it upheld its bylaws and clarified last week that the Flames would be ineligible for postseason tournaments in winter and spring sports. The league’s Board of Directors met again to consider the school’s special exemption request and came to their decision after “recognizing UIC leaders were not going to engage in a constructive pathway to remedy the situation,” according to Tuesday’s statement.

Tuesday’s statement from The Horizon League announcing Illinois-Chicago can play in the postseason alleged that “UIC leaders engaged in an inflammatory and misleading media campaign that attacked the League, including posting contact information of the League’s university presidents and chancellors on official UIC websites.”

“I credit our League’s Board of Directors for prioritizing UIC’s student-athletes despite UIC leaders’ continued actions regarding their move to another conference,” Horizon League commissioner Julie Roe Lach said in a Tuesday statement. “The response from UIC leaders has been disappointing, disingenuous, and inconsistent with our League values. At the end of the day, our League’s Board of Directors realized that UIC leaders were not going to take any action to restore eligibility for their student-athletes – including by making a simple request to the Missouri Valley Conference to enter in 2023. So our Board chose to exercise their authority to grant the student-athletes an exception to the agreed-upon bylaw.”

Illinois-Chicago is 10-14 (6-9 Horizon League) and hasn’t won the league tournament since 2004. Its women’s basketball team is 2-20 (1-16). The Flames weren’t the only program facing a conference tournament banishment amid a league change this season, but they have been luckier than Stony Brook and James Madison in finding relief.

Stony Brook is banned from the America East Tournament amid its departure for the Colonial Athletic Association. James Madison is similarly ineligible for the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament amid its looming departure for the Sun Belt.

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