The Summit League has been through significant transition since it's creation in 1982. Twenty-eight different universities have been a part of the conference and only one of the original eight schools is still affiliated with the conference—Western Illinois University. The league's membership has been so fluid that the longest period that the conference has had the same members since 1990 is four years. The changes continue as Centenary College will cease competing at the D-I level after this season and Southern Utah will be leaving for the Big Sky Conference after the 2011-2012 season. With all of the instability, it may be the time to pull the plug on the conference's efforts and have the schools move on.
The league has been around 1982, when it was founded as the Association of Mid-Continent Universities. The conference then was known as Mid-Continent Conference starting in 1989, with a final name change to it's present name at starting in 2007.
In 1994, the league saw a major defection as Cleveland State University, Northern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and Wright State University left the conference to join the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, which is now known as the Horizon League. In response, the conference took on members of the disbanding East Coast Conference. However, their membership was short-lived as only one member (Chicago State University) was left by the 1998-1999 season.
Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, the continued fluctuation in conference membership continued with the last three members of the current configuration joining the league (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, North Dakota State, and South Dakota State). Unfortunately the stability of the last four years did not last with the previously mentioned departures of Centenary and Southern Utah.
Descending the Summit
The conference, in addition to an unstable membership, has struggled to be a successful conference in basketball. Currently, the conference sits 23rd out of 31 in RPI and only one team in the top 100 (Oakland at No. 73). Unfortunately, the current ranking is not dramatically out of line as the conference's best showing was 22nd (2006-2007 & 2007-2008) and a low of 26th (2008-2009) in the past five seasons. Only once in that time has the conference had a team in the top 64 (Oakland, No. 52 in 2009-2010).
One of the biggest arguments that one could use for keeping the conference is the rivalries that are in place. This is something that is not really in place in the Summit. Only two of the schools (Western Illinois and University of Missouri-Kansas City) have been in the conference longer than 15 years. As mentioned previously, the league has no consistency in membership, so there is naturally a lack of strong ties.
Options for league's members are plentiful so it is not like teams would suffer due to the Summit ceasing operations. The three eastern teams, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Oakland University, could be look to the Horizon League as an option. Geographically, this would be a definite plus as each of the new schools would be within 90 minutes of an existing conference member (IUPUI and Butler; IFPW and Valparaiso; and Oakland and Detroit). If the conference was looking to add a team to make it an even number, SIU-Edwardsville, who is an independent, or Chicago State, who is in their second year in the Great West Conference, would be an option.
The Missouri Valley Conference could be an option for six of the teams. North Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, and Western Illinois University already are members in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is a FCS conference. With this being the case, there are some rivalries that are already in place in football. University of Missouri-Kansas City falls with the current geographic boundaries of the conference so could be a fit. Oral Roberts, would be the southern boundary of the new 16-team MVC, but they are within driving distance of Missouri State, so road trips could pair those two schools together.
While the league believes that they have a promising future on the landscape of college athletics, it seems they are looking with a biased perspective. Right now the Summit League is still standing, but the time has come for the conference flag to be lowered with pride rather than to see the conference continue to face constant change and minimal success. Folding the conference is for the greater good, helping the member schools develop rivals in strong conferences and hopefully become the teams they can be.