INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout its history, Butler has made a concerted effort to compete on the basketball court against other Indiana programs. The reasons have varied, sometimes because of conference affiliation (Valparaiso, Evansville, Indiana Central, St. Joseph's, DePauw, Ball State, and Indiana State), sometimes because it paid well financially to do so (Indiana, Purdue, and Notre Dame), and sometimes because it almost assuredly gave the Bulldogs a guaranteed victory (Oakland City, IUPUI, Hanover, Marian, and IU-South Bend).
Tonight's game with Manchester (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1) falls into the latter category.
“Each year, you want to put together the best non-conference schedule that fits your team,” first-year Bulldog coach Brandon Miller explained. “I think if you look at our schedule and the quality of opponents that we play game in and game out, we play a very good schedule, a very competitive schedule, a schedule that presents a number of different challenges for our basketball team.”
All true. It's only Dec. 9 and Butler (6-2) has already played Princeton, Vanderbilt, Ball State, Washington State, Oklahoma State and LSU. And the Bulldogs still have games with Purdue, Evansville, and Villanova remaining this month.
No one has ever questioned Butler's willingness to challenge itself. However, many fans throughout the state are questioning why the Bulldogs' series with Ball State is being put on hiatus after 105 battles (and that is an accurate description for this series).
Butler has elected – for the time being – not to play the Cardinals on an annual basis.
“I'm certainly disappointed,” Ball State athletic director Bill Scholl said. “I've said that to (Butler athletic director Barry Collier). That decision was made before Brandon became coach. I wouldn't pin that on Brandon, even though he'd now be in a position to reverse it.”
My first reaction, as someone that was born, literally, on the Ball State campus, but graduated from Butler, was that the series should continue. It was my belief that this was a classic example of a high-major program (Butler) “scheduling out of fear,” as I refer to it.
“I certainly want to continue it forever,” Scholl said. “For us, it's a great game.”
I concur with Scholl, wholeheartedly in that assessment. It is “a great game” for both programs, and especially both fan bases. But where I have altered my opinion on this matter is that the Cardinals are wrong in their belief that the series should continue with alternating home games.
“Right now, we don't have our schedule put together,” Miller said. “I'm not saying that it's 100 percent not going to happen, but right now they are not on the schedule.”
Ball State should be on the 2014-15 Butler schedule, but it should be the first of a three-game series with two of those games being played in Hinkle Fieldhouse. This is a common arrangement for programs that are in a high-major conference (for example, the Big East) and a mid-major league (for example, the Mid-American Conference).
Butler's status in the college basketball world has been elevated over the past two decades, and with that comes rewards. But that recognition has sometimes been slow to evolve among fans, recruits, and as Scholl demonstrated, administrators.
I proposed the idea of Ball State hosting Georgetown (two Sweet 16s and one Final Four appearance in the last seven years) for a “2-for-1” deal and Scholl was quick in his response.
“Yes,” Scholl said. “I think so. I'm OK with a 2-for-1 with a major program. If that can consistently get us the opportunity for good programs to come to Muncie, I'm happy going there twice. I'm OK with that.”
Ball State is currently in such agreement with Utah (one Sweet 16 and no Final Four appearances in last nine years).
However, when I asked about entering such agreement with Butler (two National Championship game appearances, two Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s in last 11 seasons), Scholl was a bit less enthusiastic.
“I don't think so,” Scholl said. “I'm open to any conversation. I'm not real interested in only playing at Butler. I understand (your point). I hear you. I'd have to think about it.”
The fact is that Butler has proven to be a more successful program than either Georgetown or Utah (or Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame for that matter) over the last 20 years and Ball State needs to recognize that.
The fact also remains that basketball fans in this state want to see this series continue.
Let's hope that the Cardinal and Bulldog leadership can come to an agreement on those facts and negotiate a pact sometime before next November.