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Butler’s step up to the big time signified by charter flights?

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Welp, I think we can officially say that Butler has made it as a high-major, nationally relevant program.

And it’s not because they hosted College Gameday on Saturday or have managed to climb into the top ten while missing their leading scorer. It’s not because they made the jump to the Atlantic 10 and are considering making the leap to the new league formed by the Big East’s Catholic 7. It isn’t even because the Bulldogs made back-to-back national title games and have the best, young head coach in the business running the show.

It has nothing to do with their success.

And everything to do with … their travel? According to David Woods, the Butler beat-writer for the Indy Star, the Bulldogs no longer take busses to every game. They fly, sometimes commercial but usually charter flights. They’ll be flying charter to La Salle for Wednesday’s game and will be taking a charter to every Atlantic 10 road game for the rest of the season.

That comes at a cost:

Depending on the destination and length of flights, charters can run from $20,000 to nearly $40,000. Butler schedules charters through Anthony Travel, the same company used by Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and about 30 other Division I schools. Tim Lindgren of Anthony Travel said the company acts as a liaison with travel brokers.

Butler once called on donors to help with fundraising so the team could fly by charter, but now the cost is budgeted. Butler coach Brad Stevens said the university recognized travel expense would increase when Butler left the Horizon League to join the Atlantic 10.

Stevens said the charters are “part of investing and doing it the right way.”

By “investing and doing it the right way”, Stevens is saying that this is how the Bulldogs go from being a blip on the radar to having longevity as a contender, something that can be sustained even if Stevens decides to leave for another job.

There’s a convenience level at work here as well.

Butler’s playing a more national schedule. The Atlantic 10 is much more spread out than the Horizon League. Longer trips mean more potential travel pitfalls. Flying coach means a flight could be delayed. Taking a bus means that the team may not make it back from a game until 4 a.m.

Chartering a flight not only allows the Bulldogs to schedule their travel around practices and classes, but it means that players will have that much more time to study, work out and sleep.

Being able to afford those luxuries makes you one of the big boys.

Butler won when there wasn’t a level playing field. Now they spend like a high-major.

So watch out.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how CBSSports.com summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told CBSSports.com Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Getty Images
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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.