The idea seemed all-too-logical on paper.
The Jayhawk Conference needed a team to volunteer to move from the West division to the East division for basketball, to balance out the number of NJCAA Division I and II teams in each division.
Butler Community College was the natural fit. El Dorado is closer to the schools in the East and they’d save a lot of money — about $3,000 each for the men’s and women’s basketball teams — on travel expenses. Money they could dump back into recruiting, new uniforms, better food on the road ... whatever they wanted.
So Butler volunteered. For what they thought was, at the very least, a two-year deal.
One year later, the Grizzlies are back in the West. And there’s some confusion as to how they got back there.
“The way the system is set up is broken,” Butler athletic director Todd Carter said. “It just needs to be fixed.”
Carter, men’s coach Mike Bargen and women’s coach Mike Helmer all said they were under the impression it was a two-year agreement to move. After last season, the Jayhawk presidents met in Topeka and decided to go back to the traditional, East-West format with the East split evenly with five Division I and Division II teams and all nine teams in the West playing Division I.
Butler’s shipment back to the West was spurred on by Labette’s decision to drop down to Division II and the presidents not wanting to throw off the balance in the East any more than it was.
Jayhawk commissioner Bryce Roderick had his plan to move another team to the East rejected by the presidents.
“The presidents said they wanted the traditional format,” Roderick said. “So that’s what we went back to. I don’t recall there being a two-year agreement ... I’m not saying I disagree with the people at Butler, I’m just saying they volunteered and I don’t think anybody determined it was going to be for two years at any point.”
Butler’s one season in the East was a resounding success for the women’s team. Freed from having to compete with perennial NJCAA power Hutchinson, the Grizzlies went 32-4 and 12-0 in the Jayhawk East on the way to the national quarterfinals. They’re picked third in the West, behind Hutchinson and Seward.
“I would sure like to be back in the East, mainly to have that $3,000,” Helmer said, laughing. “I actually thought it balanced out the conference, having us and Hutch in two different divisions, but the West has always been better, top to bottom. Moving back to the West is a concern because (Hutchinson and coach John Ontjes) have my number ... I’ve only beat them once in the time I’ve been here.
“… It’s a huge rivalry on our end because (Hutchinson) is the standard. The entire West is going to be a dogfight this year, though. No games off.”
The men’s team went 22-10 and 7-5 in the East last year — a vastly different division than the women’s side of things because of Coffeyville, a team that contends for Region VI titles year after year.
“We didn’t really have a say in moving back,” Bargen said. “We really tried to get another team to come with us to the East, but it didn’t work out.”
Bargen and Carter both pointed out that, despite the inconvenience of flip-flopping divisions, there could be benefits because the national tournament’s format changed several years ago to allow for at-large teams, and Region VI is always in contention for those spots.
In that same format, Division I teams didn’t get as much credit for wins over Division II teams and losses to those teams hurt them drastically.
“Last year was a bit odd, this year feels a little bit more back to normal,” Bargen said. “Mainly because in the East we don’t have those built-in rivalries like we do in the West. A lot of our conference games didn’t really feel like conference games, and now we’re back to the schedule we’ve always had.”