Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

July 3, 2013

COLLEGE ATHLETICS: Signs of change popping up at Butler

INDIANAPOLIS — The signs are all around Hinkle Fieldhouse these days.

Inside, offices have been torn out of the front lobby, revealing steel girders and exposed wires to anyone who notices. Outside, basketball goals have been set up in the parking lot for one of Brad Stevens’ basketball camps, not far from construction equipment. And seemingly overnight, the words Big East Conference are being splashed everywhere from the shirt arm of athletic director Barry Collier to the front of one of college basketball’s most revered basketball venues.

Welcome to the Big East, Butler.

“What you’ll find is an overwhelming endorsement of the move (around campus) because it’s for more than Butler athletics,” Collier said Monday before throwing out the first pitch at Indianapolis’ minor-league baseball game. “It gets us aligned with more academic-minded universities and their academic rates, their grad rates are very good, which is highly favored by the faculty and administration. We also are expanding our footprint. We’re still in New York, Philly and Washington, like we were in the Atlantic 10, and we’re also back in Chicago and Milwaukee, places we were out of during our stint in the A-10. And, of course, athletically, we’re competing in one of the best conferences in the country.”

At first glimpse, it looks like the perfect move for Butler.

Coaches and administrators have been working on schedules since the announcement was made back in mid-March. That gave Butler three more months than it had last year when it announced it would switch from the Horizon League to the A-10 in 2013-14 before moving up the date to last fall in mid-June. Fortunately for Stevens, the men’s basketball coach, it has prevented the mad scramble to find opponents and fill open dates.

When the spirit shop opened inside the fieldhouse on Monday morning, the new Big East T-shirts were in the front window and a hot commodity on the shelves.

“It’s been the top seller for the day in the store and online, and today is the first day we sold them,” said Janine Frainier, the manager of the bookstore and spirit shop. “We’ve been fielding calls all day about the Big East merchandise.”

Why wouldn’t fans be excited?

The Bulldogs have spent most of the past decade being billed as one of America’s top mid-major programs.

They may be able to finally shed that designation now that they have joined forces with the likes of Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova, all former national champions; and DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s, who like Butler have all been to the Final Four. The two other conference schools, Creighton and Xavier, have been NCAA tournament regulars.

So the Bulldogs are wasting no time getting putting that big-time image in public view.

Just in front of the two free throw lines, the basketball court has already been repainted with a white background and blue lettering that reads Big East and a similar banner now hangs from the decades old rafters.

At one of the baselines Monday, four employees from the ticket office sat at tables doing their work near a sign that read “Butler is proud to be a part of the Big East Conference.” And, of course, there was the huge banner outside with the Bulldogs logo next to the Big East logo and the phrase “Butler’s next chapter of excellence.”

But to those who have been around the program, little has changed.

As roughly 160 basketball campers were wrapping up their daily workouts, Stevens was shouting instructions to the camp counselors and then to the youngsters themselves. He didn’t bother to notice the changes around him.

“All I see is the Bulldog,” Stevens said with his trademark smile. “I’m excited for the conference affiliation, but at the same time, you have to do your job as well as you can to help the university.”

Other changes have not been as welcome.

Some season-ticket holders are being asked to pay 7 to 10 percent more to keep their seats, an increase that has caused some consternation, and all that A-10 merchandise fans purchased last summer is suddenly outdated. Collier noted ticket prices have been reduced for upper level seats.

The Bulldogs also shrunk the size of this year’s basketball camps because of the work being done during the fieldhouse’s $34 million renovation project.

But that hasn’t stopped what Collier, Stevens and others see as a critical progression in the future of Butler basketball.

“We’ve known we were in the Big East for quite a while, so this is a lot of ways,” Stevens said. “But it’s great for Butler, and it will be great for a lot of years moving forward.”

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