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Rivalry, Delusion, and The Butler Way

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Hidden behind all the bluff is a mid-major still trying to find its way in the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Butler
Complaining when you don’t get every call is part and parcel with The Butler Way.
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you were out of the country and away from Twitter for the last week or so, you’re likely well aware that Xavier’s fellow Big East newcomer came to the Cintas and, once again, lost. As per the norm after one of these games, Butler fans took to the internet in droves to console themselves with arguments contrary to fact, insults against college kids, and the general class for which the fanbase is known. All of this comes on the back of a burning desire to foment a rivalry with one of the premier programs in college basketball.

Rivalry

Rivalry is defined by dictionary.com as “competition for superiority in the same field.” In that regard, Xavier and Butler are not rivals. 31 of the last 41 times the teams have met, it has been the Musketeers that walked off the court victorious. Since joining the Big East, Xavier is 8-3 against the Bulldogs and have knocked them out of the Big East tournament twice. As Xavier has continued to ascend to become a national power that has appeared in the top 10 in each of the last three seasons, Butler has spent exactly two weeks in such rarefied air. Since joining the conference Butler has topped Xavier in KenPom once, and that year Xavier landed in the Elite Eight. While the Musketeers continually aim for Villanova and the top of the conference, Butler has seemed content to set its sights on second place.

Delusion

A popular complaint in the last couple of days from Butler fandom has been something along the lines of “those guys would never play here,” or that, if they did, “they would never get away with acting like that.” The second statement is an egregious case of argument contrary to fact and doesn’t need any significant time wasted on it. The laughable part of the matter is that Butler recruited JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett, the most commonly name of “those guys,” but lost out to Chris Mack on both of them. Far from being not Butler guys, both would have represented the top recruits the Bulldogs brought in.

And all this is rather rich coming from the fanbase that mercilessly derided JP prior to the dunk, fought Xavier fans in the stands during the Clock Game, and recently stormed the court at their venerated barn after beating a team they hadn’t beaten since... last season. The vitriol then spewed electronically undercuts any claim to some higher level of, yes, class that Butler fans so desperately cling to.

The Butler Way

The Butler Way, a long standing code of principles that Butler fans have sunk themselves into since all the way back in 2007. While the University trademarked the phrase in 2002, eight months after Xavier introduced The Xavier Way, it wasn’t even until 2009 that Butler’s all time greatest coach, Brad Stevens introduced it to the mainstream lexicon via a Sports Illustrated article. Ignoring the racial undertones (a Google search for Tyler Lewis or Sean McDermott and the Butler Way returns over a million results, the same for Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin combined returns barely over 80,000) that always come along with “grit” and “hustle,” and The Butler Way doesn’t really mean anything.

Butler plays the same way everyone else does, they complain about calls, they play just as dirty as anyone else inside, and they recruit at the same places, for the same players, that every other program does. The difference exists only in the echo chamber of Butler fandom. In reality, they aren’t any different. The Butler Way is a vestige of Stevens that fans can’t let go of. It’s Cleveland’s Dawg Pound on the college level.

So why the animus between the fanbases of Xavier and Butler? While both schools arrived in the Big East at the same time, they are since playing at different levels. As Coach Mack continues to bring in top 100 recruits and nationally ranked classes, Butler keeps getting the same type of players they’ve had. There’s not anything inherently wrong with that. After all, Butler is a successful program. No one argues that. What they aren’t at the moment is on Xavier’s level. It seems what rankles most of all is the oldest of all causes for rivalry: jealousy.