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Duke vs. Butler: The Big School Nightmare Comes True

Posted on April 04, 2010 by Dean Hybl
NCAA Final Four - Butler v Michigan State

With fewer than 4,000 undergraduate students, Butler University has a smaller total enrollment than the typical freshman class at most of the large public schools that usually are playing for NCAA Division I titles.

For the first time since 1985, the two teams facing off for the NCAA men’s basketball championship will both be representing private institutions. If Butler University is able to come away with the national title it will take a monumental performance akin to what Villanova pulled off against the mighty Georgetown Hoyas 25 years ago.

Typically, the Division I men’s basketball championship is controlled by large public schools with undergraduate enrollments in the tens of thousands.

That will not be the case in 2010 as the combined undergraduate enrollment of Butler and Duke is right around 10,000. There are another 8,000 or so graduate students between the two schools, but even that combined total is only about equal to the number of undergraduate students at 2010 champion North Carolina and well below the undergraduate totals for other recent champions Kansas and Florida.

In fact, other than Duke with three championships, the only other private school to win the NCAA men’s basketball title since 1985 was Syracuse University in 2003.

That a private school will win the title this year amid all the talk of tournament expansion is great irony because the tournament expansion will likely make it even harder for these small, private schools to compete with all the big public universities and their massive enrollments and athletic budgets.

While Duke has bucked the public school trend before, it is the presence of Butler in the title game that strikes the most fear among the big boy conferences because this program from the Horizon League is indeed their worst nightmare.

Who Will Win The NCAA Basketball Championship?

  • Duke (64%, 83 Votes)
  • Butler (36%, 47 Votes)

Total Voters: 130

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The reality is that there have always been small, private schools capable of winning the NCAA title, but the system has always been geared against them.

Whether it be budget restrictions or the inability to craft a schedule that would allow for a high enough seed in the NCAA Tournament, schools like Butler have usually needed a super-human performance just to make it into the second weekend of the tournament.

However, because college basketball is such a diluted product in 2010, Butler really hasn’t had to play above their potential to reach the finals.

To the contrary, they were ranked 10th in the nation in the preseason and earned a respectable fifth seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

They survived the opening weekend with a pair of tough victories over fellow mid-major programs then pulled a pair of mild upsets with wins over top seeded Syracuse and second seed Kansas State.

Due to the injury to Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas, the win by the Bulldogs over Michigan State in the national semifinals really wasn’t much of a surprise.

What would be a surprise is if they somehow are able to deny Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski his fourth national title.

Coach Kezyzewski and Duke is one of only two private schools to win the Division I men's basketball title in the last 25 years.

Coach Krzyzewski and Duke is one of only two private schools to win the Division I men's basketball title in the last 25 years.

Duke has struggled in recent years to maintain their perch among the national elite. This season marked their first trip to the Final Four since 2004 and they are back in the finals for the first time since 2001 and the eighth time in Krzyzewski’s coaching career.

If anything, this appearance of two private universities in the finals may have been the final straw that guarantees the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams.

Much has been written about how the expansion is purely about money and that is partly true. However, it is also about power and the big conferences ensuring as much of the growing pot of money for themselves.

As I outlined in an earlier column, expanding the tournament will mean most of the small conferences that now have a spot in the 64 team field will now be forced to win a game just to get into that field of 64. This will ultimately get more teams from the large conferences into not just the field of 96, but also the field of 64.

Because conferences receive a greater share of revenue based on the further teams from their conference go in the tournament, this will undoubtedly result in increased money in the hands of the major conferences.

So, enjoy the Duke-Butler final. It promises to be an amazing game and likely the last of its kind as it could be at least another 25 years before you see two private schools again vying for college basketball’s top prize.

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