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Butler scrambles to make early jump to Atlantic 10

Saturday - 6/2/2012, 1:01am  ET

By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - It’s a warm spring afternoon in Indianapolis, and the Butler basketball coaches are already going full throttle.

Coach Brad Stevens is patrolling makeshift courts in the steamy Hinkle Fieldhouse parking lot where nearly 300 children are attending basketball camp. Inside the historic brick building, fans are whirring to cool down the indoor court as Stevens’ top assistant, Matthew Graves, pins standings and rosters on a board in a hallway.

Graves has already made one change, replacing the name of a camp league from Horizon to the Atlantic 10, Butler’s new affiliation.

This is the easy part. Behind the scenes, the Bulldogs are in full scramble mode.

"Some years, May 30 is a really relaxing day," Stevens said before chuckling. "It ain’t this year." Life is about to change for the NCAA tournament darlings, the giant-slaying two-time national runner-ups who are suddenly all grown up. Butler announced just this past week that it will switch leagues before next season, rather than waiting until 2013-14.

Stevens has traded in some of his coveted free time to get an early glimpse at his 15 new league foes. He’s studying rosters and trudging through numbers, trying to decipher strengths and weaknesses of the Rhode Islands and Duquesnes and Saint Louises. And Stevens and Graves are trying to fill a schedule that now has four glaring holes _ two lost league games, a BracketBuster game that Butler will no longer play and a non-Division I opponent that must be dropped because of A-10 rules.

No, it’s not easy in the wacky world of conference realignment and not just for Butler.

"We have nine people in the conference office and they basically went into working around the clock to get the (league) schedules done," Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said. "Some had vacation time and they canceled that to work on this. Basically, we had it all done during the spring and then we had to redo all of it with the anticipation of a 16th team."

Butler President James Danko and athletic director Barry Collier informed Horizon League officials on May 2 that the conference’s best-known school and one of its longest-tenured members would leave for the A-10 after making a farewell tour next season.

What changed?

Perhaps it was the reaction Butler expected to face during next season’s road trips.

"Actually we talked a little about that and we didn’t know how it would turn out," said guard Rotnei Clarke, who played at Arkansas but sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. "We figured the crowds would give us a little bit of something, that maybe it would be a little more amped up than it normally is. We also know there are going to be a lot of great atmospheres in the Atlantic 10."

Or maybe it was the reaction from the Horizon League presidents. CBSSports.com reported that the presidents wanted to make Butler’s teams ineligible for all league tournament titles, which would have kept Butler men’s basketball team from having a chance to seek an automatic NCAA tourney bid.

Stevens said he didn’t know if that was true. Collier declined to comment on the report, citing an agreement with the Horizon League that allows Butler to leave the conference immediately. League officials have repeatedly said the agreement does not allow them to discuss Butler’s impending departure, either.

Whatever occurred, it expedited the move.

"We did announce we were leaving in 2013-14 and now we’re going a year early," Collier said. "But once people have their destination, they usually don’t mind getting there a little sooner."

Butler’s early move will force the conference to reduce the league schedule from 18 games to 16, giving each team two new open dates. Conference spokesman Bill Benner said he is not aware of any league mandate that would prohibit a Horizon League school from scheduling Butler.

The simplest solution might be adding a 10th member this summer. Don’t count on it.

"I think it would be fairly unlikely, if not fully unlikely, to add a team or teams that soon," Benner said.

The new-look schedule has Stevens taking a different tack. He’d like to play at least one game in a major market outside Indy, but he is wary of upgrading a schedule that he believes may already rank among the 15 toughest in America.

That’s not all.

"Most years, you play about 20 teams because of the two rounds in league play," Stevens said. "Next year, we’re going to play 28 or 29 teams and that’s a heck of a challenge. One of the interesting things is that when you’re playing everyone twice, that’s kind of a different coaching package for the second round of opponents. Now we’re just going to be playing them all once."

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