INDIANAPOLIS — The mood on Butler University's campus was electric as the student body and community rallied to show their support for the men's basketball team, set to play in Saturday's NCAA Final Four.
Gov. Mitch Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard joined the hundreds of Butler Bulldog fans who gathered on the campus outside Atherton Union, the main student commons on campus, to back the eighth-seeded team as they prepare for the semi-finals against Virginia Commonwealth University in Houston.
Daniels said he's been on the Butler bandwagon for years now but he most admires the academic discipline the Butler players have shown over the years, including taking exams and attending classes before big game days.
"I'm able to tell (interviewers) without equivocation that what you see in the Butler basketball team, you would see among the entire student body on this campus," Daniels told the crowd.
Butler President Bobby Fong agrees.
"We're in a time in Division 1 athletics where people are equating resources with success," Fong told The Associated Press. "And I think what we're trying to say is we need to concentrate on why students are in college in the first place. It's got to be to prepare themselves for making a living and making a life."
Fong, who's in his final year as Butler's president, says the championship run is the "cherry" on top of his 10-year tenure.
Fong said he is one of two in ESPN's 5.9 million-user NCAA March Madness tournament bracket contest to predict the Bulldogs would make it to the Final Four. But he told the crowd no matter the outcome in Saturday's national semifinal against Virginia Commonwealth, he and the university would remain proud of the Bulldogs.
Students in attendance also shared the speakers' enthusiasm.
Mackenzie Dykes, 22, a senior at Butler, said she is excited to watch the Bulldogs play as the favorites on Saturday.
"I think it's good (that they're not the underdogs)," Dykes said. "I think people are starting to realize that they actually have talent and we can compete in the final four."
Dykes and her friend Cara Burchett, 22, said they have friends who have road tripped to Houston for the game but they plan on cheering on the Bulldogs from a local bar with other Butler students.
However, for 2010 Butler graduate Marie Dahn, 22, the excitement is heartfelt, but she said she will be a little jealous of this year's student body if the Bulldogs win the championship — only a year after the Bulldogs came within a few points of clinching the title against Duke University her senior year.
"I will (be jealous)," Dahn said. "Last year it was totally caught off guard. I mean, the whole campus went wild and crazy, but it was also kind of unorganized."
But the Butler alumna said she is proud to see her alma mater pull off back-to-back trips to the Final Four.
"I think last year a lot of people thought it was a one-time thing, but we're showing this whole country and all the other team we've got what we need to do it back-to-back," Dahn said.