It can sometimes take a while for news to set in. Butler, the mid-major darling program that gave all of us so much to hope for during the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments, is leaving.
Now they are no longer just leaving, but leaving earlier than expected. Like Virginia Commonwealth, the Bulldogs will play in the Atlantic 10 next season.
I can't say I am surprised given the news that they would likely have been shut out of conference tournaments in all sports. However, I am disappointed, as one final season in the Horizon would have given Mid-Major Madness a chance to catch Butler on what should be a farewell tour to its life as a mid-major.Then again, Butler hasn't been a mid-major based on its performance or some time. You may still consider them one because of the conference they play in, but few schools have built programs for sustained success like the one in Indianapolis.
This season could be seen as an aberration. The Bulldogs failed to win the conference tournament, and failed to make the NCAA Tournament, or the NIT. They were relegated to the CBI, where they only made it to the semifinals against eventual champion Pittsburgh.
Butler finished as the No. 106 team in the MRI, a mark far off some of its better performances. But Butler is different. It is a team still on the rise, as hard as that can be to imagine. They had no player with a HOOPWAR rating over 4.0 (normalized to 30 games), using more of a the team concept than the star player route.
This is a team with room to grow, and should be poised to at least make the NCAA Tournament next season, if not compete for the Atlantic 10 crown. It is a crowded field but no team seems more ready to do just that.
Now as for the reasons pushing the Bulldogs, that is up for debate. You can see why the Horizon League wouldn't want Butler to take what would likely be its sole bid in 2013, considering they are leaving the ship. But at the same time, is that fair to the athletes on the team that they will not compete for a conference crown, just because the team is going have a new home in a year?
They didn't make the choice, and according to David Woods at the Indianapolis Star, there were athletes in other sports that aren't exactly pumped about the move.
The Horizon League (and the CAA, which has by-laws stipulating its postseason ban) would do well to revisit the reasons for the bans it was about to impose on the Bulldogs. They lost out on a marquis draw in the conference, and a boost in the overall conference profile because of the possible sanctions.
Butler will gladly take its ball and go play elsewhere, especially a spot as lucrative as the Atlantic 10, which as the Business of College Sports site pointed out, just upped its potential for large payouts from the Tournament in years to come.