TULSA, Okla. -- Oral Roberts announced Tuesday it would leave the Summit League for the Southland Conference next July, becoming the smallest school to join the conference and its first private school since the late 1970s.
University president Mark Rutland announced the switch Tuesday and said the change in geography would benefit his athletes. School officials also confirmed that ORU would pay a $250,000 penalty to the Summit League for leaving without giving the required two years' notice.
"This is a good decision for us," Rutland said. "The footprint, geographically, is a benefit."
The 10-member Summit League stretches from Utah to Michigan and Louisiana. Adding Oral Roberts would increase the Southland Conference's membership to 10, all of them in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Southland commissioner Tom Burnett, who was in Tulsa for the announcement, said it was clear ORU was the right school for the conference based on things such as size, market size and geographical fit.
"The ORU we saw excelled in all categories," he said. "Not only are you good, but you do it the right way.
"ORU has a great opportunity in the Southland Conference," he said.
Mike Carter, the school's athletic director, said the Southland Conference pursued the school.
"It wasn't a deal where we went out looking," Carter said. "We were very content in the Summit League. It kind of came about all of a sudden,"
Oral Roberts, a religious school of 3,259 students located in south Tulsa, had competed in the Summit League since the 1997-98 academic year. The Golden Eagles have won 134 regular-season and tournament championships in the league.
Oral Roberts won the Summit League's automatic berth to the NCAA basketball tournament from 2006-08 and the conference's bid to the NCAA baseball tournament the past 14 years in a row.
Summit League commissioner Tom Douple wished the Eagles the best and said it wasn't a surprise that Oral Roberts chose to join a conference with members closer to campus.
David Chicoine, South Dakota State president and chair of the Summit League's presidents council, said the panel "anticipated this possibility after the WAC recruited and added three Southland universities."
He said the league has begun work to chart its future "during these somewhat uncertain, but exciting times in conference alignments."