Maker of Madness

It was a novelty when the Big West staged the first NCAA Division I conferenced basketball tournament in the state of Nevada at the Thomas and Mack Center 30 years ago.

Today, it’s anything but a novelty. The Las Vegas Valley serves as the epicenter of March Madness on the West Coast. This year, over 100 of the best men’s and women’s teams representing five conferences (The Big West, Pac-12, WAC, WCC, and Mountain West) will hold championships in the area, awarding ten automatic berths into the NCAA Tournament.

Current Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly is one figure who played a significant role in the region’s rise in college basketball. For the past 25 years, first with the Mountain West and now with The Big West, Butterly has made his annual pilgrimage to the . Las Vegas Valley, bringing a full complement . of hoops hysteria.

“It’s hard to believe I’ve spent nearly half of my life in Las Vegas and Henderson during March Madness, but there’s no place I’d rather be,” Butterly noted. “When I started at the Mountain West in 1999, we were all alone in town. As the sports landscape has evolved, more and more conferences saw Las Vegas as an opportunity. A chance to add their premier sports to a growing athletic landscape.”

Butterly grew up a hoops junkie in basketball-crazed Illinois, the state that invented the term “March Madness.” He was the head manager for an Illinois State squad that qualified for the NCAA. Tournament in 1990, and needless to say, he was hooked. After a stop at the Missouri Valley Conference, Butterly joined the brand-new Mountain West Conference when it was forming in 1999. Butterly built the fledgling league into a powerhouse through the next two decades

And the annual Mountain West Basketball Championships became a fixture in the desert. The Mountain West’s ascendancy also caught the attention of other conferences looking to improve the hardwood.


In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Butterly was named Commissioner of The Big West, an 11-team league based in California and Hawaii. Big West members UC Davis, Long Beach State, Cal Poly, and UC Riverside are among the nation’s top 35 most-applied-to institutions, with UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and UC Santa Barbara all in the top 5.

Within months of his arrival at Big West headquarters in Irvine, California, Butterly was assured that the conference would do its best to hold men’s and women’s basketball championships in 2021 after the nationwide coronavirus outbreak canceled the 2020 versions. There was only one problem.

Playing the 2021 edition in Southern California was impossible. After considering all options, the enterprising commissioner turned his attention towards a return to the Silver State and Michelob ULTRA Arena inside Mandalay Bay. Fans were not allowed to attend, but playing in Las Vegas made a lasting impression on administrators, coaches, and players.

Who would have thought that a trip to a muddy construction site on a rainy day in the middle of the event would change the future of the conference?

“Brooks Downing from bdGlobal, a company with deep ties to college basketball events in this market, was assisting us with the event at Mandalay Bay,” Butterly recalls. “One day, he said, ‘If there’s any chance you’d like to bring your event here permanently, there’s a small venue under construction in Henderson you should look at.'” The courtship was brief, and before long, it was official: The Big West would become the first ticketed event in the brand-new Dollar Loan Center the following March.

This spring, The Big West committed to holding its basketball championships in Henderson through 2027.

A commitment that will have Butterly knocking on the door of 30 consecutive years of sharing the madness of March with the Las Vegas Valley.

“If you’re a college basketball fan in the Western U.S., this is the place to be in March,” Butterly noted. “And if you’re a player, coach, or even an official, you know this is where you can make your mark on the game. In this city, the first two weeks in March is the absolute pinnacle of everything you want if you love this game as much as I do.”

The 2024 Hercules Tires Big West Basketball Championships are scheduled for March 13-16 at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson. Tickets are available at or by calling. (702) 645-4259.


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