The Crossroads Classic, in theory, is the perfect event for college basketball fans in Indiana. For the state that prides itself on loving basketball more than any other state, what more could you want than to have the best four programs convening in the capital?
It’s been argued on this site that the event might have run its course. From Indiana’s point of view, you can understand why. Indiana could use this day to play in a more marquee event or against another perennial power (hello, BBN). In terms of fan support, it’s providing the largest contingent of the crowd, but not getting a cut that is proportionate to the amount of bodies it’s putting in the seats. I’ve been to the event. Indiana faithful outnumber the three schools with ease. But alas, the event trudges on for another year, and with that comes a matchup with the Butler Bulldogs.
Ask any Indiana fan, and the memories that past matchups with Butler in the Crossroads Classic are not positive ones. Even the mere mention of Alex Barlow will put a scowl on the face of any Hoosier fans. Through three matchups, Butler has won two. Does that make Butler a better program? Should Indiana fans loathe Butler? What is it that makes the relationship between the two so... strange?
They’re really two programs with two very different histories. One was primarily built on the success of the past. One that has experienced a meteoric rise in the college basketball landscape since the turn of the century. It’s two programs that are starkly different, yet inherently the same.
Each fan base wants to claim the same thing: that their favorite program is the best in the state of Indiana.
Indiana and Butler aren’t rivals, per se. It’s not the same Big Brother/Little Brother dynamic that the Indiana/Purdue rivalry brings.
No, Indiana and Butler is more akin to a pair of coworkers vying for the same position within a company.
In a way, Butler has been everything that Indiana fans have been longing for over the past 15 years. Butler has been to Final Fours and National Championships. Butler is consistent year in and year out. Butler plays hard, defends and shares the ball. Ask an Indiana fan that’s been around for awhile, and they’ll probably tell you that it looks a lot like the Indiana teams of the Bob Knight era. That used to be the reality for Indiana basketball, and it’s quite possible that it’s on its way back there. Butler has built a brand that works for Butler. If only there was a name to describe the manner in which it runs its program.
Butler isn’t the plucky underdog anymore, as much as Butler fans would like to keep up that charade. Spoiler: once you reach a pair of Final Fours and your coaches get poached by Ohio State and the goddamn Boston Celtics, you’re a power. Own up to it, Butler fans. It can be fun at the top!
And that’s what makes the relationship between Indiana and Butler so intriguing. Butler wants you to think they’re still that same underdog from the Horizon League, instead of the one that’s a member of one of the five best conferences in the country. Indiana so desperately wants to considered among the best of the best again. Butler fans would like to stick to Indiana yet again with the perception of the underdog winning again, while Indiana fans so badly want to beat Butler into a pulp and reassert their dominance over the rest of the state again.
Neither side wants to come out and say it. And that’s okay. I think both sides respect the way the other does business, but there will never be bad blood between the two. I don’t think either side cares enough.
So as another year of the Crossroads Classic rolls around, what should we expect? Indiana fans will may act as if it’s just another game while proclaiming that it’s Butler’s Super Bowl. The Butler faithful may cite jealousy as the source of disdain from many Hoosiers. Or maybe this is just some incoherent rambling about something that isn’t really there.
Regardless of what happens, Indiana and Butler will continue to be compared and contrasted, whether the two fan bases like it or not.