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The late Jim Valvano once said that you should beware of any team with a hyphen in its name during the NCAA tournament.
There are a ton of potential great basketball programs out there which are state schools that live in the shadow of their better known, longer standing, and better funded campuses. It's time for these schools to unite and unleash their power on their big school overlords!
The two qualifications to join the league are a) the school must be a satellite or "hyphen" campus of another school, and b) the school cannot currently sponsor a varsity football team. We know this excludes a few hyphen schools like Tennessee-Chattanoga, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Tennessee-Martin.
Also, the league will focus on the Eastern and Central portions of America. The Big West has plenty of hyphen schools banded together, but now they are being infiltrated with schools that have to find a place for the rest of their sports while the football teams roam the country in search of the biggest payoff. Together these basketball schools can join up and have their main focus on the game of basketball without the burden of having a fledgling football program to support.
The league will have 18 teams, but will play in three divisions (Eastern, Central, Western) to keep travel regionalized. Teams will plays home-and-home within each division, and play four teams from each of the other divisions once, creating a 18-game conference schedule that will cut down on the number of non-conference games athletic directors will have to schedule.
The cross-divisional games will rotate so that every school visits every other school once every three years. And the cross-divisional games will be set by travel partners, so a Western team will play the two Maryland schools on the same road trip. The top four teams from each division will meet in a 12-team conference championship at the end of the season.
Starting in the south, we have the UNC-Greensboro Spartans coming in from the Southern Conference. This school located in the heart of basketball-centric North Carolina is an upstart program under the guise of a great young basketball mind in Wes Miller. Playing its games in Greensboro Coliseum automatically offers one of the most basketball-rich facilities in the South and a possible facility to host future Hyphen League Championships
Across the state of North Carolina is the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. Wilmington boasts a great history throughout the 90s and into the 2000s where they were a perennial power in the Colonial Athletic Association. While on a recent downturn, head coach Buzz Peterson has the program aimed in the right direction and looking forward to success in the future.
The third North Carolina school is the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. Asheville is coming off back-to-back Big South Championship seasons where they are a force year in and year out. Coach Eddie Biedenbach is the leader in career wins in the Big South and is looking to take the next step with his Bulldogs program. The beautiful city of Asheville also boasts the newly built Kimmel Arena which provides a top-notch basketball experience.
A short drive from there leads us into South Carolina where the USC-Upstate Spartans reside. This new Division I program has rocketed to the top of the Atlantic Sun standings in recent years. Upstate is looking to duplicate its winning tradition of the early 80s when they were NAIA national champions. Sophomore Torrey Craig is a rising star and looks to make the Spartans a new power in the south.
Travelling up the Eastern Seaboard brings us to the UMBC (Maryland-Baltimore County) Retrievers. Always a solid program out of the America East, the Retrievers can pull from the talent laden Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. In leaving the America East they join a much more stable conference committed to basketball excellence.
Across the Chesapeake Bay lies natural rival and travelling partner the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks. Ever since UMES dropped their football program, Eastern Shore has been an outlier in the MEAC. With the change in conferences, it provides an opportunity for its other athletic programs to thrive, including the defending national champs in women's bowling.
Moving over to the Midwest we start a move of several teams from the Summit League with the IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis) Jaguars. Located in the basketball Mecca state of Indiana, the Jaguars have built a strong program since joining Division I and head coach Todd Howard looks to add upon the solid foundation that Ron Hunter built over the years.
Staying in the Hoosier State, we have the IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne) Mastodons. IPFW plays in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum which is another premium facility for the Hyphen League. The Mastodons have always produced hard working teams and is strategically located so it can pull from the immense talent pools of Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit.
The SIUE (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville) Cougars have finished their transition to Division I and move over from the Ohio Valley Conference. Sitting just 20 miles outside of St, Louis provides a huge market and a solid recruiting base for the Cougars. Head Coach Lennox Forrest is quietly building a burgeoning program that is ready to take the next step.
The UIC (Illinois-Chicago) Flames are located where league headquarters will be located, in the Windy City. The largest school in the third biggest city in the U.S. provides a perfect home base. The Flames have a great history in the Horizon League and the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League) before that. The Chicago area is overflowing with talent and is a sleeping giant ready to be awakened on the rest of college basketball.
North of the Illinois border are two more schools that will be transitioning from the Horizon League. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers had a great run in the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2006 under coach Bruce Pearl. After a brief dip, the Panthers are back on the right track under coach Rob Jeter, winning 59 games over the past three season.
Milwaukee's Northern neighbors, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix will round out the Central Division. The Phoenix was a regular contender in the Mid-Continent Conference and the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now Horizon League) when Green Bay switched conferences in 1994. Dick Bennett led the program and created "The Way," which was passed on to Jim Larranaga and Barry Collier among others. Green Bay also plays in the Resch Center, an arena that is less than 10 years old and a great size for mid-major hoops.
The UMKC (Missouri-Kansas City) Kangaroos deliver a strong market in the Midwest with more than 2 million people in the metro area. The Roos are looking to turn the corner under head coach Matt Brown and compete against their other rivals shifting over from the Summit league.
The Division I upstart University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks are still in the transitional phase and will not be eligible to compete in the conference championship for a few years. Omaha does bring a winning attitude with a Top 20 Division I hockey program that is used to playing the big boys in the WCHA like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Abandoning their football and wrestling programs allow the Mavericks to put more focus on basketball and makes UNO a future power within the league.
The University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans will be leaving the Sun Belt, where they just don't fit in anymore, UALR is the only current member of the conference that does not sponsor Division I football. The Trojans have appeared in the NCAA tournament as recently as 2011, and would be the likely favorite to win the division in the beginning.
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders will be coming in from the Southland Conference. The Islanders made it to the tourney in 2007 with longtime coach Willis Wilson. Still a relatively young program, having just joined Division I in 1999, the Islanders play their home games in recently renovated American Bank Arena, which seats 8.400.
Two University of Texas system schools complete the Western Division. The University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks gives the Hyphen League access to the Dallas media market. Yes, UT-Arlington was talking about adding football and moving from the WAC to the Sun Belt. But when the opportunity came to join this league, the administration came to their senses and dropped the football idea. The Mavericks have also appeared in the NCAA tournament somewhat recently in 2008.
The Texas-Pan American Broncs round out the Western Division. Texas-Pan American have a richer history then most believe. The Broncs won the 1963 NAIA National Championship and was the first program Lon Kruger coached before moving on to several other jobs above the Red Line. UTPA will be more then happy to escape the Great West Conference.
While the geographic footprint of the Hyphen League is spread out some, it is not too extreme, especially with divisional play and travel partners to where it is a burden. The major markets it provides covers a vast land area and interest in the game of basketball is strong in the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Dallas. All 18 schools are ready to step out of the shadow of their sister schools and succeed on their own.
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