The Butler Way: Winning With Integrity

In 1988 Robert Fulghum announced to the world that by the age of five, he learned everything he really needed to know.  Fulghum’s New York Times Best Selling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, includes an essay which begins, “How about some good news for a change?”

In a time where it seems that every major news headline related to NCAA sports and the student-athletes who play them involves some inherent scandal, a quote from that essay brings a dose of reality back to the situation:

“You will continue to read stories of crookedness and corruption. . . Don’t be misled.  They are news because they are the exceptions.”

If there ever was a NCAA member program which demonstrated that the heavily publicized stories of the day regarding corruption amongst NCAA programs are the exception, it would be the Butler University Bulldogs.

Butler painted itself onto the national sports landscape in 2010, when its men’s basketball team’s successful season and run through the NCAA tournament granted the Bulldogs the opportunity to play in the National Championship game against Duke.

“People will be talking for years to come about Butler’s incredible run to the National Championship game in men’s basketball, and we will too.  It was a truly remarkable season with a school-record 33 wins, the first 18-0 conference record in Horizon League history and a school and league-record 25-game winning streak,” noted Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier.

The clock did not strike midnight on the Bulldogs’ Cinderella story after the conclusion of the 2010 National Championship game.  Another successful season for the Bulldogs in 2010-2011 culminated in the Bulldogs facing off against the Connecticut Huskies in the 2011 National Championship game.  Other Bulldogs teams have experienced similar success in their respective sports, as the school has won 26 conference championships in the past decade.

Not only have the Bulldogs experienced success on the court, but also in the classroom.  While its most recent competitor in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game is unsure whether it will be able to participate in the 2013 Division I Men’s Basketball tournament due to new post-season academic criteria set forth by the NCAA, Butler student-athletes have consistently yielded high academic results.

“As good as our teams were on the field, their performance in the classroom was equally as impressive.  During this year’s men’s basketball Final Four, there was quite a buzz about the fact that members of our men’s basketball team went to class on the day of the National Championship game.  But it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering the importance our coaches and athletes place on academics.  It’s a reason that the Butler men’s basketball team featured two Academic All-Americans, junior Matt Howard and sophomore Gordon Hayward.  They were two out of just 15 Academic All-Americans chosen nationwide!  We also had sophomore Grant Hunter named to the Academic All-America Team in football, junior Conner Burt picked to the Academic All-America squad in men’s soccer, and Andy Baker selected to the Academic All-America team in men’s track/cross country, and we’ve had ten Academic All-Americans in the past three years!  This is an incredible accomplishment for these student-athletes and for our university.  The other nine Horizon League members combined for eight Academic All-Americans last year,” noted  Collier.

In an age when mainstream media questions the integrity of some of the most winning NCAA men’s basketball and football programs daily, how have the Butler Bulldogs maintained integrity on the fields of competition and in the classroom?

Collier is not only Butler’s Athletic Director, but a Butler alumni and former member and coach of the Butler men’s basketball team.  If anyone understands the foundation that Butler’s model of winning is built upon, it is Collier.

“A very significant part of the pride that our community feels about Butler and Butler athletics is because of what our student-athletes demonstrate everyday.  When we think of a model collegiate athletic program, it would be one where student-athletes are accomplished in the classroom, on the fields of competition and are people of high character.  That’s what we have at Butler,” said Collier.

Collier recognizes that the community’s pride toward Butler athletics is largely based upon the well-rounded nature of Butler student-athletes, as student-athletes are equally competitive athletically and academically.  Collier credits Butler’s coaches with allowing this hybrid of success to exist at Butler.

“Our student-athletes’ graduation rates and retention rates are higher than the student body, which is quite high itself.  The key is to establish a value-based program and then stay true to that.  There’s no silver bullet.  There’s no magic potion that allows that to take place.  There’s a philosphy in place.  The coaches that lead our programs fit the model of placing integrity and academic accomplishment at the top of our values and goals,” explained Collier.

In recognizing the role that coaches play in ensuring the integrity of a program, Collier, a former basketball coach himself, pointed out that NCAA coaches who embrace integrity as a core value largely outnumber those coaches whose improprieties make up the bulk of NCAA stories covered by the media.

“There are  probably only a handful of professions that are taking more cheap shots than coaches these days.  I don’t think that’s accurate.  You have many, many, many, coaches who are down in the trenches leading and mentoring student-athletes and programs and recruiting folks that fit the culture.  I see that everyday with our 12 head coaches.  I’m sure it’s the vast majority of coaches out there.  There are always exceptions to that,” said Collier.

The Butler Athletic Department’s mission statement references something it refers to as, “The Butler Way.”

“The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement everyday while putting the team above self.”

In an age when college sports fans are desperate to find signs that stories of corrupted NCAA teams are the exception and not the norm, The Butler Way and the Bulldogs who adhere to it serve as a beacon, guiding college sports fans to cheer on a program built upon integrity, to further success.

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