HOUSTON -- We will speak of invisible architecture later. We will fully consider the way that stories are constructed for public consumption in this new and strange century. But in any era, past or present or future, every satisfying path must end at home. Just as the dominant seventh must resolve to a tonic, the final scene must close the circle, tie the ends and set up the graceful fade to black.
The Butler Bulldogs are going home, back to where they live. A season that began at Hinkle Fieldhouse a Saturday afternoon in November
will end in April, just across town. These games will be played at the building
that changed my career path, the giant brick box that casts a long sharp shadow over the capital city of Indianapolis
and darkens the view from our official headquarters
. We are all going home, and Butler's fate may very well to be to capture the flag at Sports Bubble Stadium. A National Championship by this team, in this place, would set off a chain reaction of implosions that would alter future history for all of us.
On its way to the 2010 Final Four, the Bulldogs did something the other 246 schools in the Other 24 couldn't. They defeated a line of opponents with far more resources, universities with a lot more money to spend on sports than their school has. Butler's overall athletic budget is just over $11 million, and its $1.7 million in men's basketball expenditures put the program halfway down Division I's chart. Along the way back home, the Bulldogs overcame these financial deficits (athletic budget/MBB budget, 2009):
How? Was this some kind of basketball magic? Magic is the failure to see logic in a snapshot moment, the loss of context and the big picture, the capitulation to an easy answer. "Meant to be" is a surrender, an unwillingness to study the matrix of tiny binaries in which just one single zero irrevocably alters the picture. God is the sum of all actions; a million decisions, pushes, pulls and applications of physical laws led to this singular and true reality. The fortunate floor positioning
, the two high bounces off the rim
, the double overtime game across the bracket
... every other path leads to a different place, and in those, our Epilogue is already posted.
Was it the Butler Way, that nebulous and tract-less concept that will launch a thousand feature stories this week? What is it, exactly? Is it the combination of 40 percent shooting, tepid rebounding and impeccable ball control that has given recent Bulldog teams such a high-risk combination for wins? Is it "dedication to defense?" It's certainly not salable or transferrable -- Thad Matta
left, and ended up fighting the same early-exit tension that every high-major coach faces nowadays. Todd Lickliter
... well, his journey across the Red Line ended pretty badly.
If you have followed this team this year, this decade, this lifetime, you already have the answers that a thousand newspapermen from around the country will be grasping at this week. Butler is Butler because they put Butler's glory above their own, despite every modern cultural recommendation to the contrary. The players trust each other and listen to their coach. They don't "buy in," because this subsumption to team requires selling out one's own selfish inclinations. They play with BALLS, a particular sporting attribute that is impossible unless you're fighting alongside and for your brothers-in-arms. These are principles passed down
from generation to generation, and that's why A.J. Graves was able to crack a smile after his final loss in a Butler jersey.
The Butler Way is love. It's really not any more complicated than that.
This is easy enough to understand if you love this game enough to willingly allow it to hurt you. This is a love that most of us here recognize, because we've seen its dark side -- the uncaring disposal of the losers and the injured and the old. Butler's love has pushed it past all those who didn't love enough, and it's pushed past the boundaries met by those in the past who loved too
much, and found out it didn't matter. Butler's run is for those who couldn't break through to this point, as well. It's for the mythical Kent State-Duke regional final, a team the Flashes matched up a lot better with. It's for the alternate reality, just a few inches away from the actual one, where Jason Richards' shot found its mark. It's for all the unclosed circles, for all those who were cut down before they could return home in triumph.
Fourteen months ago, I was left stranded out on the road,
and had to choose whether to continue or quit. I decided I love this game too much to leave it; you, the readers, allowed me to continue. And your generosity continued, as we raised over $14,000 to keep this site open as an independent entity, 100 percent free of the Sports Bubble
and its sportzy
I fully understand our tacit agreement. You allow me to do this because I write to you in this space about it, and because I try to capture the feeling of being where I am. I am a conduit
. This isn't about me (proof: TMM has seven times more Twitter followers than I do), it's about my perspective. That's not a realization shared by many of my colleagues, unfortunately. College basketball will survive without any one of us, because Our Game doesn't care, and it never loved us back anyway.
This is the end of the line for our NCAA Tournament journalism-style credentials, because the Final Four is still a brick wall. There is a set of very stringent criteria for media, and most chairs are taken by old-school newspaper writers grandfathered in via agreements between the NCAA and basketball writers' association. Members of the online media are still flatly denied, even though many of us reach larger audiences than columnists from the dying paper empire. It's not something I complain or grandstand about, because things will change in time, naturally.
We'll still be around when they do, and we're still here now. We will go to Indianapolis, and we'll write about what happens there this week. We'll give an actual unique Butler season recap, do a roundtable about the lyrics of "Too Big Yo," share a tour of our capital city, and drink (Diet Coke) with the locals. (Our on-the-street stuff from 2006
was the best and most memorable material from George Mason's run.) When the lonely CPIA is filled with coaches (and yes, Christmas complainiacs, this
is what it has to do with basketball
), we'll be there. And when we walk triumphantly into Sports Bubble Stadium on Saturday, you will walk with us. I guarantee you one thing: I will be crying like a girl.
And because of careful cost containment, ruthless budget-slashing and those 16 days off for the [CENSORED - ed.], we still have over $1,100 in the TMM PayPal account. We'll spend it if we need to, but would rather use it towards bringing the As-You-Go Bracket winner to Indy this summer. Up to now, this site has never pulled an actual profit, and any overage will be given to our official charity. Along with the t-shirt and kids' book sales, we're going to mail off a four-digit check to Peru Children's Charity this summer.
In the past day, since Butler secured its spot in the Final Four, we've fielded a lot of offers of help. It's been overwhelming, and I just want to say thank you. Right now, we're still in Houston with a rental car due back tomorrow, holding a plane ticket back to Providence, and we're going to close those loops. We have a CPIA reservation for the weekend (placed back in January for good luck -- it worked!), and a way into Sports Bubble Stadium on Saturday. We're still working on airfare and car, and if you have any frequent flyer miles you could donate, let us know via The Form™. But please hold off on cash donations. There is an intricate and effective plan in place to secure the future of The Mid-Majority for the next six seasons and beyond, and it will all be laid out in the Epilogue on April 6.
But after several hours of searching on the intertron last night, we have the basis of a spectacular offer to ensure that our money cushion stays intact for the lucky AYG bracketeer and the kids. We have sold out forever of our 100 Ballys, but I was able to find an order a small stash of seven key Bally parts that went discontinued last year. There will not be a 101st Bally, but instead a limited edition event for the ages.
Once we get home next week, there will be a box of Bally parts. We will Rit-dye them dark blue and give them silver felt eyes, mouth, arms and legs. In the official Bally directory, they will be numbered B-1 to B-7. And to get around the strict NCAA licensing laws, these will be marketed by the name FYNNAL FOR BALLZ.
We are sold out of the FYNNAL FOR BALLZ.
We are not putting these up for direct sale, because we know there's demand for FYNNAL FOR BALLZ and the eighth orderer would end up heartbroken. They will cost the same as regualr Ballys: $100 a piece. They will be shipped in mid-to-late April, and last forever. So if you want to have FYNNAL FOR BALLZ (and get us a car and CPIA lodging for the weekend without cashing out our budget), please put your marker down and reserve through The Form™. Only the first seven will be sent the sssecret purchase link on Monday morning.
It is going to be the most beautiful week of the most beautiful season of all, and we can't wait for it to begin. Let's take it home, Hoops Nation!
Photo by Garrett Wheeler