Bulldogs begin Big East era

BY BEN SIECK | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR

Despite a tumultuous offseason for men’s basketball, Butler officials remain optimistic about the school’s move to the Big East this season.

Associate athletic director Mike Freeman said he believes that sooner was better for a conference change already in the works.

“What we’ve learned in our recent history with conference moves is, if you can make the move right away, you do it,” Freeman said.

Freeman said the analogy has been made to deciding to get a divorce, but putting it off for a year, saying that not many people would do that.

“I think of this as more of a 50-year decision,” athletics director Barry Collier said. “It is unimaginable that there is a better league out there than what we’re in. When we were in the other leagues, we didn’t have the options that we do now.”

During the offseason, Butler’s most prominent program lost head coach Brad Stevens to the NBA’s Boston Celtics and replaced him with former Butler  assistant coach and player Brandon Miller.

The Bulldogs also lost their leading returning scorer and rebounder, junior forward Roosevelt Jones, for the season after he suffered a wrist injury during the team’s trip to Australia.

Collier said the events over the past couple of months have provided challenges for the team, but he believes it is equipped to handle them.

“We’ve got to deal with all the stuff that happens,” Collier said. “And Roosevelt’s injury is one of them. And Brandon (Miller) will do a great job.”

Collier said Miller has a good staff, and has already done well on the recruiting trail, and he hopes to keep that going.

The transition to the Big East may come with some difficulties in the short term, but Collier said the move is most beneficial in the long term.

One of the major benefits of moving to the Big East for Butler is the presence of a 12-year TV deal with FOX Sports 1 that many reports have at bringing in $500 million.

Freeman said that beyond the TV deal, the Big East move has already begun to pay dividends for Butler.

Freeman said actual figures are hard to count, but they’ve already seen clear increases in the areas of season ticket sales, sponsorship revenues and licensing compared to last season in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“If you look at right now compared to last year, we’re way ahead on new season tickets sold, the vast majority of our sponsors have renewed, and we’ve found about six or seven more that have come on at a significant level,” Freeman said.

Joe Gentry, director of corporate sponsorships, echoed Freeman’s sentiments about the fruitfulness of the Big East. He said he thinks it is significant that most of Butler’s men’s basketball games will be nationally televised.

“I know that the TV deal will have our games reach 90 million homes,” Gentry said. “People will see Butler all over and this will help our exposure to prospective students, people will see our gear and this will help with our licensing, and corporate sponsorship when the ads on the scorer’s table can be seen on national TV all the time.”

The move to the Big East ultimately goes beyond basketball, and the athletic department as a whole. The opportunities that come with the network of the Big East are invaluable, Levester Johnson, vice president for student affairs, said.

“The Big East move continues to improve student spirit on campus,” Johnson said. “It helps with our level of institutional recognition and the quality of new student applicants, and it really puts Butler on par with the other great collegiate institutions.”

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