The deluge of conference shuffling over the last year has overwhelmingly been driven by football considerations, but now a school that doesn’t even play FBS football is getting in on the act. The Butler Bulldogs, a year removed from their second straight trip to the national title game, have announced that they’ll be switching from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 starting in 2013-14.
Butler’s move will undoubtedly alter the balance of power in the land of the mid-major conferences, many of which will be losing key members soon as part of the massive realignment centered around the Big East. The Bulldogs are on the cusp of becoming the kind of perennial contender that Gonzaga and Memphis have built despite working from outside the six power conferences, a progression that can only be helped by joining a tougher league.
Herein, a look at the teams with the most to gain—and the most to lose—from Brad Stevens’ squad heading to the A-10.
The bad news for Fordham isn’t that they went 3-13 in A-10 play last season. The bad news is that that record was actually an improvement.
From 2008-09 to 2010-11, the Rams lost 41 consecutive games in conference play. The last thing this program needs is another opponent on their conference schedule that has the talent to compete on the national stage as Butler does.
Of all the also-rans in the Horizon League, few are further from any semblance of contention than Loyola (IL). The Ramblers have had one winning record in conference play since 2003, and the last time they played in a postseason tournament was 1985.
This is a team that will need plenty of help to get out of the Horizon basement, but the departure of one of the conference’s toughest teams certainly can’t hurt.
Whomever arrives to replace Butler in the conference—if anyone does—they can’t possibly be as daunting a foe for Loyola as the departing Bulldogs have been.
The definition of a team on the brink, Dayton has made four NITs but just one NCAA tournament in the last five seasons.
As the Flyers try to become a routine contender for a spot in March Madness, the last thing they need is to add a conference opponent who will likely beat them on a regular basis.
Certainly, there will be years when Dayton has the edge in this matchup, but on the whole, the Bulldogs will likely be favored much more often than not.
Adding an extra conference loss or two (even to a strong opponent) is a good way to delay Dayton’s rise to relevance in an already deep league.
Since Rob Jeter took over for Bruce Pearl in 2005, the Panthers have gone from a run of four straight Horizon League titles to an erratic squad that went from first place in 2011 to a shaky 11-7 mark last year.
As Milwaukee tries to build itself back into a consistent contender, the departure of one of their toughest rivals is going to work very much in their favor.
Butler’s absence will give the Panthers a serious shot at the Horizon title in some years when the Bulldogs might otherwise have run away with the league.
The Panthers' chances of returning to March Madness for the first time since 2006 will be that much more favorable with the Bulldogs out of the picture.
Of the teams that will be remaining in the Horizon League after Butler leaves, none has attracted as much national attention recently as Cleveland State.
Regular-season upsets over the likes of Syracuse and Vanderbilt in the last few years, not to mention placing Norris Cole in the first round of the NBA draft, have set the Vikings up to develop into a consistent bracket-buster type of team.
Of course, to bust any brackets, CSU has to make the Big Dance, and Butler’s departure eliminates any realistic chance of the Horizon League evolving into a two-bid conference.
With no reliable national contenders left in the league, Cleveland State will remain at the mercy of the conference tournament for its postseason hopes every March.
The Atlantic 10 is already one of the stronger mid-majors in the country, regularly landing multiple teams in the NCAA tournament.
Few teams have benefited from that situation better than Xavier, which has played in the Big Dance every year but one since 2001.
Adding another burgeoning national contender will earn the conference a good deal more respect from the selection committee, which will help both in increasing the number of at-large teams it gets and in improving the seeds of the teams that do get in.
Look for Xavier to make their impressive March Madness track record even better with Butler in the fold.
The Pirates are in this spot as a stand-in for a whole slew of teams in a similar position to their own: middle-of-the-pack programs from power conferences that usually find themselves scrambling for the last few at-large bids.
For teams in that situation, there can be few developments less welcome than the addition of another competitive team to an already tough mid-major conference.
Adding Butler to routine tournament contenders such as Xavier and Temple helps add to the number of bids that the A-10 will get in any given season.
That leaves one less at-large opportunity for the Big East or SEC, and that’s bad news for the teams who can’t count on locking up a bid before conference tournament play begins.
Where many basketball programs have been taken along for the ride by the demands of their corresponding football teams, Butler has made its own decision about where to play.
By controlling their own destiny, the Bulldogs have maximized their chances to stay in the NCAA tournament field on a regular basis starting in 2014.
Joining a respected conference with routine postseason contenders such as Xavier and Temple will give Butler a novel opportunity to earn quality wins in conference play.
With the A-10 likely to become at least a three-bid (and sometimes even a four-bid) league thanks to the Bulldogs’ arrival, Butler will also have a realistic chance of at-large spots in March Madness, giving Brad Stevens a better chance to add to the pair of Final Fours that have gotten his coaching career off to such an impressive start.