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COLUMN

If report is true, Butler is going 'big-time'

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

ESPN reporting Dawgs to play in new Big East next year

Friday, March 1, 2013 - 6:05 am

When Butler visits VCU on Saturday at noon in a nationally-televised game (ESPN2), without question officials at the Atlantic 10 Conference headquarters will be saddened.

Not because this won't be a phenomenal battle of contrasting styles pitting incredibly successful teams (both are 22-6 this season). After all, this is exactly the type of game that the league envisioned a year ago when it recruited these two programs to join the conference. However, their lament will be due to, if an ESPN report is accurate, the fact that this will be the first – and last – meeting between the two opponents in an A-10 game.

ESPN reported late Thursday that the Bulldogs will leave the A-10, of which they've belonged just eight months, and become a member of the currently-dubbed “Catholic 7.”

The report also stated that Xavier would leave the A-10 and join the Catholic 7, with Creighton being a possibility as the new league's 10th member.

How prominent has Butler become? It isn't even a Catholic-based institution.

If Butler fans felt that their team was taking a significant jump last summer by joining the Atlantic 10, they'll now be witness to even more.

Joining the Catholic 7, which includes Marquette, DePaul, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, and Georgetown, should unofficially mark the end of ever referencing Butler as a “mid-major” program.

For over a decade, Butler has demonstrated the ability to play with the highest level of competition. It improved on that opportunity to do so on a consistent basis by joining the A-10, and the Bulldogs will continue that trend with the new league.

From a basketball standpoint, it won't be a massive leap in quality of competition. The likes of VCU, Saint Louis, Temple, LaSalle, and several other A-10 squads can more than hold their own with the Catholic 7 teams (the A-10 is 3-4 this season against them). So facing Seton Hall and DePaul won't exactly make Butler and Xavier quake in their sneakers.

However, the Bulldogs' perception throughout the college basketball world will continue to rise.

A year ago, as a member of the Horizon League, the highly-successful Bulldogs earned courtesy attention, and that is about it, from high-level recruits. That level of interest from some of the nation's best players improved once it was announced that Butler was joining the Atlantic 10. It will take another step upward once the new “Big East,” which is what the report said the conference will be called, is officially created.

This latest recruiting class for Butler includes players from Los Angeles, St. Louis, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. That is what being in the Atlantic 10 – as well as appearances in consecutive national title games - can do for a program.

That scope of recruiting nationally will continue to grow in the Big East.

The increased interest level and excitement won't be limited to solely recruits. Butler has sold out a school-record five games this season at Hinkle Fieldhouse, as well as seven consecutive road games in the Atlantic 10.

Overall, 15 Bulldog games during this season have been played in front of standing-room only crowds, and it'll be more next season, which is when the report said play would begin in the new league.

A facet of the Butler program that has already been improving is the commitment to providing the necessary resources to compete at the highest level.

The university is in the midst of a $25 million “preservation” of Hinkle Fieldhouse, which will dramatically improve the athletic experiences for all of the Bulldog student-athletes.

The Butler men's basketball squad already enjoys comfortable travel, as they have increased the breadth of its scheduling throughout the nation. And lastly, Butler has made a financial commitment – to a degree - to fifth-year coach Brad Stevens, but it will need to do more for him in the very near future.

Stevens is signed through the 2021-22 season and recent tax documents (from 2011) indicated that he made nearly $1.2 million, which is below almost all of the current coaches in the new league, despite Stevens having achieved far more than any of those coaches.

If the ESPN report proves true, and there are too many sources talking for it to be far-fetched, this is an historic moment in Butler University history.

It will serve as a “Welcome to the big-time” moment for the Bulldog program and its fans.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.