The Big West Conference, UC San Diego’s new athletic home beginning in July, welcomed new commissioner Dan Butterly in an introductory press conference on Tuesday, May 5. Butterly, who previously served as the senior associate commissioner for the Mountain West Conference and currently chairs the College Football Playoff licensing committee, discussed his plans for conference improvement, rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic, and integrating UCSD into the Big West and Division I. On June 1, Butterly will replace the outgoing Dennis Farrell, who has helmed the Big West since 1992.
As UCSD prepares to become the fifth University of California campus to join the Big West, Butterly discussed the progress the school has made, “The transition is just really beginning … That institution is doing things the right way, and their leadership is doing things the right way.” But he also acknowledged the challenges with becoming a Big West member in the current uncertain atmosphere, saying, “Who knows how governance and legislation is going to change based on this pandemic. There’s a number of different things right now in the NCAA legislative cycle that could affect that transition phase.”
One of the barriers that UCSD will face as part of its move from Division II to Division I is a four-year restriction on NCAA tournament competition in sports that have a Division II national championship. When asked about the Big West possibly helping to shorten that transition period, Butterly said, “If we can find a way to work with the NCAA to get that process sped up, those are things we want to try to do to help UCSD. But we have to play by the rules that the NCAA has set for us.”
Butterly also noted the improvements the Big West will have to make to be more competitive on a national scale, noting its status as the 20th-ranked conference in men’s basketball.
Under Butterly, the Mountain West went from 16th to 10th in the nation in men’s basketball – while much of that change was due to the dominance of San Diego State University, Butterly also stressed the importance of improving the standing of the conference’s worst teams to ensure a balanced and engaging conference schedule.
For some of the less competitive schools in the conference, Butterly said, this could mean getting paid to play one-off games at top-tier programs to gain experience, money, and exposure at the highest levels.
But the most immediate issue facing the Big West is the process of reopening college sports while balancing speed and safety. “Whether our campuses are going to be open in the fall is going to dictate whether we’re going to be able to play sports in the fall. It really is a national issue that really may be out of the control of individual conferences,” Butterly said.
He also noted the need to assess schools’ technological capabilities to allow TV and Internet broadcasting of games in the likely event that fall sports begin with no fans in attendance. Ultimately, however, Butterly stressed the need to take government guidelines on social distancing importantly, and that the desire to get sports back takes a back seat to safety.