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LEXINGTON – As the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament gets underway on Thursday – and no, those games in Dayton don't constitute the real NCAA Tournament – there will be more than games won and memories created over the next three weeks. Successful basketball at this time of year can transform people's lives, careers, and entire universities forever.
There is no better example of that than the Butler Bulldogs (26-8), who will open tournament play Thursday against Bucknell (28-5) at 12:40 p.m. (Tru TV).
As the Butler players and coaches were preparing for a public practice session on Wednesday at Rupp Arena, its university leadership was in New York for the unveiling of the worst-kept secret in sports, that the Bulldogs would be joining the recently revised Big East Conference effective July 1.
That only occurred because of success in the NCAA Tournament.
If Butler doesn't make consecutive Final Fours in 2010 and 2011, the Bulldogs would not have been invited to join the Atlantic 10 Conference last May.
If Butler didn't demonstrate the ability to compete well in the A-10, there would have been no possibility of it being courted by the Big East over the past two months.
Thank you Gordon Hayward.
“The markets that we're getting a chance to play and the schools that we're getting a chance to be associated with, speak for themselves,” Stevens said. “It's been an unbelievable 13 years (at Butler). To think about some of the places we're going is kind of mind boggling.”
That's what success in March can do for a coach, a player, a program, and a university. And Butler has seized it all and ran with it like no other university.
There have been several factors which have led Butler to this juncture, not just a last-second put-back here or there on national TV. But none more important than the Bulldogs' several deep tournament runs.
If then-Butler President Geoffrey Bannister takes Bobby Knight's advice and hires Hoosier assistant Joby Wright, instead of former Butler player Barry Collier, whose strategy during the interview process involved marketing, not man-to-man principles, then Wednesday's announcement never would have occurred.
If Todd Lickliter doesn't chase short-term financial windfall in Iowa, over long-term security, Wednesday's announcement never occurs.
If Collier isn't astute enough to hire Stevens, Lord knows, Wednesday's announcement never occurs.
If Stevens doesn't see something in a pretty good tennis player from Brownsburg (Hayward), Wednesday's announcement never occurs.
But the key ingredient that weaves all of those “right-place at the right-time” moments together is winning basketball on CBS in late March.
Where Butler has traveled from has been well-documented, but the magnitude of Wednesday's announcement probably can never truly sink in with those that remember what Butler was like back when.
However, where Stevens is taking this program in many ways is just beginning.
Butler's next recruiting class involves players from Rhode Island to Los Angeles and places in between.
Butler will reap a reported $3 million annually courtesy of the Big East's new contract with Fox Sports.
Last March, Steven's team played in the Horizon League Tournament in a 4,000-seat arena in Valparaiso. Next March, it will be battling the likes of Georgetown and Marquette in Madison Square Garden.
The Bulldogs have gone national, and it all emanated from success in the NCAA Tournament. Think about that over the next few days as you call in sick, and settle down on the couch for 12 hours of the best days of the year for many sports fans.
That's some March Madness for you.