Big East: teams prepare for changes

With Butler University’s intention to join the new Big East official, people both inside and outside the Butler community have begun speculating how it will affect the men’s basketball team.

Less immediate attention has been placed on how the change could affect Butler’s 17 other athletic teams.

Based on recent history, those teams could experience varying levels of success in their first Big East seasons.

Butler’s athletic programs stepped up to the plate, and many had or are still having successful seasons in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Butler men’s soccer coach Paul Snape had his team in the hunt for an A-10 tournament berth on the final day of the season.

Snape said Butler’s time in the A-10 helped his team prepare for “elite” competition in the new Big East.

“The boys have to make sure they’re ready to go,” Snape said. “Nothing less than 100 percent is going to win us a game.

“If you lack focus or make a mistake, (Big East teams) punish you because they’re just quicker, stronger and faster than what you’ve played against before.”

Snape’s squad will have to face the national runner-up team from Georgetown and national semifinalist Creighton on a regular basis next season. St. John’s men’s soccer team was the national runner-up in 2003 as well.

“Long term, I think (the move) is fantastic,” Snape said. “But in the short term, we’ve got a few challenges we’ve got to deal with, and (we have to) make sure we’re fully prepared for playing in one of the elite conferences in the country.”

In women’s soccer, the new Big East will harbor the top two seeds from the most recent Big East conference tournament.

Butler’s men’s and women’s cross country teams have been national players in recent years. The women’s team made the NCAA final meet in 2012 by placing fourth in its regional meet.

Matt Roe, coach for both of Butler’s cross country teams, said his teams always aim to be competitive on a national level, but winning a conference championship will be harder for his teams than ever before.

“If you know anything about the Big East on the track and in cross country, you know it’s arguably the toughest conference in the country,” Roe said. “Obviously, the bar is even higher than it had been in the Atlantic 10 and the Horizon League.”

Women’s cross country in the new Big East will be especially competitive.

Villanova University took home the women’s national title in 2009, and Georgetown’s squad took the title the following two seasons. Providence College fielded the national runner-up in 2012.

“Ultimately, our goal is to compete against these teams, as it has been for a long time,” Roe said.

The Butler volleyball team reeled off five consecutive wins to close its only A-10 season and earn the No. 6 seed in the A-10 tournament.

But coach Sharon Clark said the team’s inclusion in the Big East is a big competitive step from both the Horizon League and the A-10.

“We’ve got several programs throughout that are all going to be in the same conference that are top 100 programs (in the nation),” Clark said. “I think the Big East presents an opportunity for us to showcase our university and athletic program on a much higher level.”

Clark’s team will compete against a Marquette squad that went 27-7 last season and a Creighton team that went 26-3 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Both of Butler’s track and field teams will experience tough competition from Villanova, Georgetown and Providence.

Butler will compete against five other teams in women’s swimming. Creighton, Marquette, St. John’s and DePaul do not have women’s swim programs.

Creighton, St. John’s and Villanova sent their women’s basketball teams to the ongoing NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament.

As for spring sports, DePaul offers relatively strong men’s and women’s tennis teams. St. John’s had the highest-seeded men’s team of the Catholic 7 in the 2012 conference tournament schools, while DePaul had the strongest-seeded women’s squad of the new Big East group.

Butler’s men’s golf team will have good competition in the form of teams from Villanova, St. John’s and Georgetown.

There are only six women’s golf teams in the new Big East, including Butler’s team. Seton Hall’s team was the best of those from all the new Big East schools in the 2012 conference tournament.

Butler’s baseball and softball teams started their A-10 seasons a combined 5-0. The softball team will face decent competition in the Big East while the baseball team will have to deal with last season’s Big East conference champ St. John’s and an NCAA tournament team in Creighton.

In the A-10, Butler’s teams travelled to new locations for in-conference games. Snape said getting his team familiar with more new environments offered by the Big East will be a key to success.

“What will change is making sure the boys understand the strengths and weaknesses of each conference and making sure they understand the environments,” Snape said.

“Our focus in these next four, five months is to gain as much information about the cities, about the colleges, about the facilities so we can educate our players on what to expect.”

Snape said his team’s schedule and when the Bulldogs will be on the road is another concern.

“We’re going to play up in the Northeast in October and early November, (which is) certainly different than if you played there at the end of September because of the weather,” Snape said.

From a recruiting perspective, Snape, Roe and Clark all said the Big East move should benefit their teams.

Clark said she is glad Butler is playing in Chicago and Milwaukee again, as many of her team’s players have come from the Chicagoland area.

Roe said the move can be beneficial to Butler’s cross country and track and field teams outside the U.S.

“Georgetown, Providence and Villanova are national brands in our sport,” Roe said, “and to be aligned with them is going to help us on a national and international recruiting page.”

Snape said he hopes Butler’s move to the Big East can help it’s men’s soccer team recruit players who might otherwise consider more well-known conferences.

“We can actually go further (while recruiting) and maybe hit the East Coast,” Snape said. “If we can (also) have a prominent image in (Chicago), maybe we can compete for players with the Big Ten. Maybe they’ll look and say, ‘Hey, I can go get a soccer experience playing at Butler in that Big East.’”

Clark said many people may not realize how difficult it is for fall sports to turn around and prepare for a new conference in such a short period of time.

“It’s almost April right now, so in four or five months we’re going to be doing a completely different thing than we just did for eight months, which for me is different than the last 13 years,” Clark said.

Clark said she is also concerned about the level of funding her team has in comparison to some of the other teams the Bulldogs will be facing.

However, she said her student-athletes are “resilient” and will “rise to the occasion” when preparing for another new conference.

“Any coach, any player that’s truly a competitor wants to compete against the best all the time,” Clark said. “I’m very excited for where we’re headed.”


Related posts