INDIANAPOLIS – Barry Collier's first objective in winning any conference championships when he arrived at Butler University was to figure out how to compete with programs within the Indiana Collegiate Conference such as Wabash, DePauw, Indiana Central and Saint Joseph's.
The Butler athletic director has come a ways in the past 39 years.
Monday marked the latest in a continuation of historic decisions for the Bulldog athletic department, and there was Collier front and center of it all playing an integral part in molding the future of the university, as Butler officially joined the Big East Conference.
“There are many, many things at Butler that are moving us forward, illustrating opportunities that we are taking advantage of,” Collier said. “This move to the Big East offers Butler a significant platform, and in return, Butler offers quite a bit to the Big East.”
Collier's first experience at Butler was as a student-athlete from 1974 to his graduation in 1976 and he, more so than any other person at the university today, has a complete comprehension of just where this university has ventured through its history.
“In 1974, we weren't a member of a Division I conference,” Collier said. “We have come a long way.”
Over the past several years, university athletic programs have treated their conference affiliation with the same regard as a cable television contract. When offered a better deal, tradition and rivalries are discarded and new challenges (and the financial revenue streams that are brought with them) embraced. Butler has been no different.
Thirteen months ago, the Bulldogs were still officially members of the Horizon League, and have since been members of the Atlantic 10 and now the Big East. If you think that it's been a whirlwind for the fans, imagine being caught up in the storm itself.
“I've likened (the process) to going to a sixth-grade dance,” Collier said. “Where you ask a friend to ask her friend if she'll dance, and she tells her friend to tell your friend, that if you ask, she might say yes.”
Butler was first contacted this spring by the former members of the Big East Conference, which formed the “Catholic 7” (Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Georgetown Marquette, DePaul, and Villanova), but the extended offer came to Collier via the office of Butler president James Danko.
“If you've been in college athletics or followed it, for about 10 years,” Collier explained, “there was some anticipation or some thought that the Big East might go through some change. This kind of change. And four or five years ago, as the (men's basketball) program elevated to another level, this opportunity became more realistic for us.”
Just over a year ago, Collier had to navigate his athletic programs making a step up from the Horizon League to the A-10, and the teams did so seamlessly. But once the decision was made to go all-in with the jump to the Big East, Collier initially thought of the movie “Jaws.”
“The sheriff is on the boat and sees the shark and says 'We're going to need a bigger boat,'” Collier said. “That's to a certain extent what we thought (about moving).”
It's no secret that it simply costs more for an athletic program to compete in a league of the stature of the Big East, as opposed to the Horizon League. Do the math. It costs more to fly a team to Georgetown instead of busing to Youngstown. But Collier has a plan for keeping his teams financially competitive.
“The Big East offers opportunity for increased revenue for the whole university for that matter,” Collier said. “Specifically within athletics, (our coaches) don't get bogged down in what we don't have or who we are not. We like who we are. But with this opportunity comes more revenue to do what you need to do to compete.
“Probably the most important thing in this is that we aren't joining the Big East and are happy to just be there, we want to win. We want to be successful, we want to do it the right way, and we want to do it the 'Butler Way.'
“The 'Butler Way' includes being successful, so we get back to focusing on the process and putting the things in place, step by step, to be successful.”