Despite several media reports and anonymous sources saying that the university will change athletic conferences, officials are mum.
Butler University is one of five institutions rumored to be moving to the reorganized Big East.
A new move could mean more media exposure, less travel time, new competition and a larger athletics department budget.
Butler—along with fellow Atlantic 10 member Conference Xavier—is a heavy favorite that could join the conference as soon as 2013-14, according to media outlets, including ESPN, the Associated Press and USA Today.
A group of schools, collectively known as the Catholic 7, will begin their new league July 1.
Butler has not issued an official statement to address any conference switch.
President Jim Danko wrote in an email to The Butler Collegian that most of the media reports have been based on speculation.
“Obviously the media continues to speculate about how the splintering of the Big East will play out, but so far, most of what I have read has only been based on speculation,” Danko wrote. “It is flattering that Butler is receiving such positive attention since it is an indication of the respect others have for Butler’s approach to athletics and academics.”
Danko also said Butler has been “extremely pleased with the A-10, as this has proven to be a truly exciting season, as we have had the opportunity to compete with many outstanding basketball teams.”
Both Athletic Director Barry Collier and Sports Information Director Jim McGrath declined to comment.
Danko’s Chief of Staff Ben Hunter also declined to comment.
Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade told reporters no schools had given a notice of withdrawal before the Butler-VCU game Saturday.
“I’m just like every other conference commissioner,” McGlade said. “We try to stay focused on our realignment concerns as we can be, but by the end of the day, institutions will still make the decision about what conference they affiliate with.”
The A-10 could lose four teams by 2014-2015 if ESPN and AP reports are correct. Dayton and Saint Louis are expected to join the Big East in the 2014-2015 season.
Rumors surfaced about Butler’s possible move from the A-10 after less than six months in the conference.
In December 2012, The Butler Collegian reported that Danko neither confirmed nor denied any of the speculation about a conference switch.
On Dec. 17, Danko sent out an email to the university community.
“In terms of the announcement by the Catholic 7 schools to separate from the Big East, I greatly respect—and agree with—their collective conviction that, if they do not control their own destiny, someone else will,” Danko wrote. “Butler, too, has controlled its destiny proactively, for example, when it made the decision to join the excellent Atlantic 10 Conference.”
At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, there were 16 teams in the Big East, with Temple contributing football.
Soon it will be official that seven of those schools, known as the “Catholic 7,” will depart from the current Big East to create their own league, taking the naming rights with them.
The Big East conference was established on May 31, 1979, and is typically characterized as a football conference in the media.
The seven teams leaving are better known for their basketball teams’ successes.
The schools made the announcement in December that they would be leaving the conference, and there have been negotiations and discussions ever since.
Despite all seven being Catholic institutions, the group is opening up its new league to non-denominational universities such as Butler, according to media reports.
Negotiations regarding the split are still ongoing and are likely to finish in the coming week, according to national media outlets.
THE MEDIA DEAL
A major incentive for Butler to join the new Big East is the Catholic 7 schools’ proposed television deal with FOX.
The media organization is planning to launch a new sports channel, FOX Sports 1, to replace the Speed Channel. The new network is set to debut Aug. 17.
According to an ESPN report, FOX has reportedly offered a 12-year, $500 million deal for television rights to the Catholic 7 schools’ athletic events.
Reports have the amount of money the seven Big East schools would earn ranging from $2 million to $5 million per year.
Butler and Xavier would split what is left over from the television deal after the Big East schools take their share. Regardless of what that amount is, they would end up making less money than the Big East schools.
A-10 schools earn approximately $440,000 per year in the conference’s current television deal.
Most of the Big East’s negotiation has revolved around a $110 million reserve fund and determining how the money will be split among the 16 members.
The money comes from exit fees, tournament shares and conference reserve funds.
According to the AP, the Catholic 7 schools would receive $10 million of that to split among themselves, in addition to keeping the Big East name and the right to play conference tournament games at Madison Square Garden.
On the other side of the money ledger, Butler would be forced to pay a $2 million exit fee for not giving the A-10 at least 27 months’ notice before changing conferences, according to the AP. The fee would have been cut in half if Butler had given a year’s notice, according to Tom Eiser, Xavier’s associate athletic director for communication.
Butler’s 2011-2012 athletic budget of $14.7 million was less than half the athletic budget at St. John’s, Georgetown and Villanova.
Butler would face, on average, slightly decreased travel distances and times with a move to the Big East.
According to Collegian calculations, Butler’s average trip in the A-10 is approximately 549 miles, straight from Indianapolis to the opponent’s home site. That number drops to 522 miles per trip with a move to the new Big East.
Not all of Butler’s athletic teams are able to take chartered flights like the basketball team, so that time on the road could become a reality for some squads.
A bus ride to Providence College would last longer than any trip Butler experiences within the A-10.
Providence is approximately 913 miles from Butler, or about a 14 and a half hour bus ride.
Still, it would not be much of a change from the school’s current longest trip, 895 miles to Rhode Island University.
Xavier in Cincinnati would still be Butler’s closest in-conference competition—assuming the Musketeers leave the A-10 as well—at 118 miles away. DePaul University in Chicago is about 184 miles from Butler, providing another reasonable drive for league action.
In general, Butler’s athletic teams faced tougher competition in the A-10 than the Horizon League. Despite this, many of the teams have had success.
The Catholic 7 schools offer a new slate of competition that is arguably even tougher than that of the A-10.
Georgetown and Marquette have both been ranked in men’s basketball this season. The bottom-tier Catholic 7 schools in men’s basketball have similar records to those in the bottom of the A-10.
The new conference would also offer multiple strong opponents in such sports as women’s cross country, women’s volleyball, men’s soccer and baseball.
A move to join the Catholic 7 would put Butler in a league with other well-performing and highly ranked institutions.
Butler, which is ranked No. 2 in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best in the Midwest list, would join the likes of Georgetown and Villanova—ranked 21st among national universities and first among regional universities in the North, respectively.
Butler has been ranked No. 2 for the past three years.
Butler would be the smallest school in the league by student enrollment.
The average student enrollment at the Catholic 7 schools is about 15,240, including both undergraduate and post-graduate students. Butler’s current enrollment is 4,771.
Butler teams will, theoretically, be able to recruit athletes and students by having more conference contests in the East.
Plus, the chance to compete against well-known schools such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette could be a strong draw in Butler’s recruiting process.
Butler could expand its athletics department if it went to the new league.
Currently, Butler funds 17 varsity sports. All of them are sponsored in the A-10—with the exceptions of football, which is in the Pioneer League, and women’s golf, which is in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The new Big East could bring the potential of adding teams, both in terms of revenue and venues for competition.
The Big East sponsors 21 varsity sports, including field hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse and women’s rowing.
Butler’s football team will most likely stay in the Pioneer League. Only two of the Catholic 7 schools have football teams in the Big East.
Butler used to have a men’s lacrosse team that competed at the Division I level from 1993 until it was cut in 2007, along with the men’s swimming team.
Collier made the decision in his first year as athletic director. He said it was due to finances and not being able to properly fund 21 varsity sports with a “bottom-of-the-barrel financial aid budget.”
Because of Title IX, Butler did not cut any women’s programs.
The men’s lacrosse team continues to be a popular club sport at Butler.
The team plays in the Central Division of the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association, and Butler employs head coach Kyle Mates.
The Big East would have four other men’s lacrosse programs with Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown and Villanova. Notre Dame also has a program if it chooses to stay in the Big East for an additional year before moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Even with potential changes, Butler has to be vigilant of Title IX restrictions and regulations.
Just this past year the athletics department came under review by the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.
Title IX requires the ratio of women in sports to be substantially proportionate to the undergraduate enrollment.
During the 2010-2011 school year, women made up nearly 60 percent of Butler’s full-time undergraduate students and only around 37 percent of athletes.
In September 2012, Beth Goetz, former associate athletics director for administration, said the department believed it was in compliance with Title IX.
“We believe we offer every sport in which there is an interest and ability on campus,” Goetz said.
She said that met one of the required exceptions of the legislation if the percentage was not proportionate.
Butler also has a women’s lacrosse club team, though it is not as popular as the men’s team.
The Big East would only have two remaining women’s lacrosse programs.
Butler might be able to add women’s scholarships or sports to be compliant with the Big East and Title IX.
BUILDING A LEAGUE FROM THE GROUND UP
One of the biggest differences in this speculated move for Butler is the foundation of what it’s joining.
The A-10 was an established league with a foundation for tournaments, scheduling and monetary issues.
While the Big East has been around for 34 years, Butler would essentially be helping to build an entirely new conference.
The league that is scheduled to begin on July 1 still needs to find a commissioner and league officials.
This becomes an issue when sports such as soccer and cross country start their seasons just a month after the league start date.
The conference will have established schools with rich athletic histories. Butler would be joining a group of experienced Division I schools.
The fact remains that there are still many uncertainties.
AS TALKS CONTINUE
Officials from the NCAA could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
Officials from Georgetown and Providence declined to comment when contacted by The Collegian.
The Collegian did not receive a response as of press time from Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
Big East negotiations are expected to be finalized tomorrow.
The Collegian will continue to update this story online as more information becomes available.