VCU and Butler: Heroes Shifting the Balance of Power in NCAA Basketball

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Almost inevitably in life one sees a clash between top dogs and underdogs, between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  NCAA basketball features such a division. There are the "Big Six" conferences that have traditionally dominated the college basketball scene, schools comprising the Big East, the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12, the Pac 10, and the SEC.

The remaining non-Big Six teams, representing over 80% of college basketball, are underdog schools who are given little respect and little chance of ever prevailing over their Big Six brethren.

But the past two NCAA tournaments have witnessed a shift in the balance of power, along with a slowness of the Big Six and the national media to recognize it.  More and more, the underdogs are kicking sand in the faces of the Big Six.

Last year, Butler University from the little-known Horizon League came within a whisker of defeating Duke for the national championship.  And in this year's Final Four, Butler is joined by VCU from the Colonial Athletic Association, making half the Final Four non Big Six teams who are still, somehow, viewed as underdogs.

It is very clear that the Big Six, along with the major media outlets who cover them, are fiercely resisting the notion that their era of dominance is over.  It is human nature for those in power to have blinders when it comes to acknowledging that their power has weakened.  Denial is indeed a powerful psychological force.

Heroes are people who prevail even when others don't believe in them.  VCU's fabulous journey to the Final Four was fueled, in part, by the disrespect shown them by the basketball elite who continue to overestimate the Big Six and underestimate the parity that now exists across the basketball landscape.

A lesson can be learned here:  Beware hubris.  Human history is replete with stories of powerful entities whose demise was caused, in part, by their inability to recognize when their power has eroded.  Butler's near-miss last year should have put a dent in the massive hubris on display among NCAA basketball media moguls.  But it didn't.

Either Butler or VCU has to win the national championship for the Big Six to finally admit that they aren't so big anymore.  As we work in the city of Richmond, we're rooting for VCU.

Go Rams!

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  If so, please contact Scott Allison at sallison@richmond.edu.

6 Responses to “VCU and Butler: Heroes Shifting the Balance of Power in NCAA Basketball”


  • Hi Scott and George! This was a great blog post on the NCAA underdogs. It caught my eye because my husband and I watched the PBS Frontline piece about NCAA basketball today.

  • I didn’t understand a word of this, but it’s always cool when the underdog prevails. Except when it’s not. :D

  • Being an underdog in the tournament i understand what it means to be taken lightly its seems that sense we are the underdogs that the bigger teams just look past you. Two years in a row Bulter have been in the finals and both times fell short to the big six conference. This year there was another mid major team in there with them which was vcu have two of the final four teams being mid major is something that rarely happens this is s great sign for years to come

  • I agree completely that the VCU Rams were heroes this year in the Mens NCAA Tournament. They beat five major conference teams on the way to the Final Four and showed that the little guy can do it. With their unique combination of young coaching and senior players they formed a team bond that became truly apparent in March.

  • The underdog’s story can always inspire people. VCU had an amazing performance this year. But being a student from University of Richmond, I would say the Spiders are also heros. They made the 16s again and the last time we get in 16s was in 1980s. Our team is awesome!

  • Coming from a university that is known to have a basketball team that is a “giant killer”, I cherish the fact that underdogs are rising up in the standings and are getting the recognition that they deserve. I believe the reason why VCU and Butler made it so far in the tournament is because they embrace that fact that they are underdogs and that they have more to prove. Through the motivation they get from all the critics and skeptics, VCU and Butler were able to pull through for each other and get their respective teams victories in the NCAA tournament.

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