Butler’s Loss Still a Big Win for College Athletics

There is no denying there are plenty of things wrong you could easily point out about major college athletics.

There is the ordinary – the coach who bolts for another job with more money and alleged prestige while leaving a cadre of frustrated recruits and fans in his wake. Particularly when compared to the fact that players must sit out for a year when they transfer schools but the coach gets to cash in the moment he signs on the dotted line, the inequity is obvious.

There’s always a litany of off-the-field incidents you can find in the sports section can find almost any day of the week.

And then there is – gasp – the Bowl Championship Series. If you need to ask why, well, there’s … oh, never mind.

On Monday night, though, much of what draws us to the thrill of college athletics was on display in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

I was blessed to be able to attend the title tilt between Butler and Duke, and even high above the court off a corner of the baseline, it looked like it was going in. The “it” was Butler guard Gordon Hayward’s half-court bomb that could have literally become the defining moment of basketball history in hoops-crazy Indiana.

Backboard.

Rim.

But, agonizingly, no net.

The streamers poured down on cue from the Lucas Oil Stadium roof as Duke celebrated its 61-59 victory in a game as improbable as Butler’s unforgettable run to the college hoops summit.

Truth be told, a team that regularly shot under 50 percent for much of the NCAA Tournament and won on vault-secure defense, turnovers and sheer guts had the run to end all runs to play essentially a home game in front of 70,000 fans for a title. And, sadly for the Bulldogs, they missed a seemingly countless number of shots within five feet of the basket – including one by Hayward with 13 second left that would have given them the lead – that could have swung the fragile pendulum in their favor.

Denied the fairy tale ending most people outside of Durham, N.C., wanted to see, there is plenty to be appreciative of here.

Butler’s charge through March off the court was conducted with class. No chest thumping, no in your face pomp. Simply razor-sharp execution and fabulous coaching by rising star Brad Stevens who will now be tempted by the allure of a huge payday at a much larger school.

As for Duke, regardless of how you may feel about them – they win too much, ESPN is their local cable network, etc., consistent excellence demands respect. The same can be said of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski; love him or hate him, at least an acknowledgment of his Hall of Fame caliber accomplishments are necessary.

There were many things right Monday night, even if the ending so many wanted wasn’t it.

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