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What went wrong with Butler

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Jump of leagues was too challenging for quick success

Friday, February 28, 2014 - 12:01 am

The jokes bounce around the message boards and social media with the spring of a Spalding.

“The Butler Way is waaaay down.”

“So how’s The Butler Way holding up in major conference play?”

“The revamped Butler Way? Nowhere to go but up.”

“Creighton crushes The Butler Way by 28 points!”

“The Butler Way loses second straight game.”

“The Butler Way has lost its way.”

Laugh now critics. While you can. For it won’t be forever before the Bulldogs are competing with – heck, they already are doing that – actually winning games in the Big East.

The Butler Way has indeed taken a directional downturn that only the media had the foresight to envision last October when the Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth in their first season of competition in the 10-team Big East. Their 12-16 record (2-14 in conference play) is evidence of that. But there are reasons this program is wrapping up its worst season in a quarter of a century. Many reasons. But they are also correctable reasons.

In March 2012, Butler played in the Horizon League Tournament at Valparaiso in front of 4,700-plus fans. Sixteen months later, the Bulldogs were battling 11th-ranked Villanova in front of more than double that number of fans in their Big East opener. No program could expect to make that massive of a leap - in that span of time - without a painful price.

The shifting of many programs throughout college athletics over the past few years has been with the speed and frequency of the old “hide-the-ball” trick. But the difference in regards to Butler is that the gap between point A and point B was substantial.

For Maryland to go from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten? So what?

Louisville from the Big East to the American Athletic Conference to the ACC? Yeah? What about it?

It wasn’t that difficult for Texas A&M to jump from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, and I could go on and on with examples of programs that made steps, but not the Evel Knievel-like challenge the Bulldogs chose.

Climbing near the top echelon of this conference will take time and talent. That is the responsibility of the Bulldog coaches and players. Oh, and also a lot more money committed from the Bulldog leadership.

Of the 10 teams in the Big East, Butler ranks dead last in financial commitment for men’s basketball, and in most instances, it isn’t even close.

Georgetown and Marquette spend $10 million annually to ensure their programs success. Butler ponies up less than $4 million.

Along with Butler, Xavier and Creighton also made the step up in competition from the Atlantic 10 (as did Butler) and Missouri Valley Conferences, respectively. However, both of those programs were already ahead of the Bulldogs in preparation.

Xavier already has Big East-level athletic facilities and an annual budget of over $4.7 million, while Creighton spends nearly $500,000 more than Butler does on its program.

The Blue Jays’ facilities include an NBA-quality arena, as well as a 78,000-square foot practice facility. Oh, and having the prohibitive favorite for the NCAA Men’s National Player of the Year (senior forward Doug McDermott) also helps.

First-time head coach Brandon Miller never dreamt that he would be in this position a year ago, so patience is needed by all involved before passing judgment on his leadership. To his credit, he has had his team battling into the final minutes of multiple games this season.

Give Miller and his coaches time to recruit a Big East-caliber roster (adding junior forward Roosevelt Jones back next season will help immensely), the facilities (a $17 million renovation of Hinkle Fieldhouse is underway), and continued financial support and it won’t be long before Butler finds its “Way” back into the national spotlight.

What lies ahead…

To make the NCAA Tourney: Butler would have to win the Big East Tournament and the automatic bid that comes with that. If that happens, Brandon Miller should run immediately from Madison Square Garden to a convenience store and purchase the winning lottery ticket, which is only slightly more statistically improbable than the Bulldogs winning that tournament.

To make the NIT: Not possible. The NIT did not take a team with a losing record (St. John’s was close at 16-15) in its 2013 event, and the Bulldogs would have to win the Big East Tournament (which would put them in the NCAA Tournament) to achieve that.

To make the CBI or Tourney: Winning its final two regular season games, plus, a run to the Big East Tournament title game might put Butler back in the national spotlight enough to entice the CBI to take a 17-17 Bulldog squad. The same could be said for the CIT.

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