The 2018 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament starts this week in a new location for the conference: Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Big Ten Tournament coverage:
The tournament gets underway on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, as is customary. What isn’t: the location or the timing. Every other major conference in college basketball will play its tournament next week, ending the weekend of Selection Sunday. And for the Big Ten, New York City is a new territory for the tournament.
Why is the Big Ten, a conference based in the Midwest, holding its basketball tournament in New York City?
Mostly because of some ideas the conference has about TV and exposure. The Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 to reach the D.C. and New York markets, and the conference views these tournaments as ways to reach the alumni who moved from their Midwest stronghold. It’s also a follow-through on a promise the Big Ten gave Rutgers and Maryland when they joined.
“I think that it’s important to us, because I’ve noticed from time to time when you see expansion, you don’t see a proactive follow-up on it,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said at the conference’s basketball media day in October. “You add institutions, but you don’t embrace them. You add geography, but you don’t live there. You don’t make significant or sufficient effort to become part of communities that are new to you.
“So while the Big Ten has been around for 122 years and we have the largest alumni base and probably the most disparate Big Ten distribution, we want it to be more than clear. We wanted to actively compete and participate in this corridor. Why this corridor? I think it’s probably the most important corridor in the country. Maybe the world, if you look at media, if you look at politics, if you look at banking, if you look at finance. So it was important for us to be here, to live here, participate, and to do everything we could to facilitate integration athletically, competitively, culturally, and that’s why we’re here.”
Why is the Big Ten basketball tournament now instead of next week as with every other major conference?
Blame the Big Ten’s desire to hold the tournament at Madison Square Garden now instead of at some point in the distant future. And blame the Big East.
The latter conference has Madison Square Garden locked up for the weekend of Selection Sunday until the 2025-26 season, so the Big Ten couldn’t just waltz in and claim the spot for itself. The ACC has the Barclays Center, New York’s other high-profile arena, reserved for its own tournament. The Big Ten wasn’t going to be able to play in New York at all on its usual weekend this year, so the only way to play in New York was to do it a week early.
Is anyone going to show up?
The stadiums certainly won’t be packed. Large alumni networks in New York won’t match the interest the tournament gets in Indianapolis and Chicago, but Delany and the Big Ten leaders know this. Their reasoning, they’ll say, is that this is about more than money.
“It’s a build,” Delany told The Washington Post before the Big Ten tournament’s D.C. edition last year. Here’s information from an interview he did with The Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein this week:
Delany said about 14,000 tickets have been sold for all sessions, the first of which is Wednesday. Individual tickets go on sale Monday after the bracket is set. Prices range from $20 for early sessions to $135 for top seats to the semifinals and championship game.
Delany views capacity at about 17,000 because MSG officials control the sale of suites, which bump the seating to 19,182.
Last year, in part because Maryland played only one game, the Big Ten tournament in Washington drew just 13,281 fans per session.
Chicago averaged 16,928 at the United Center in 2015. Indianapolis averaged 16,722 in 2016.
Holding the Big Ten Tournament a week early has had some negative effects
To play the same number of games as other conferences while still holding its tournament a week early, the Big Ten had to compress its schedule and fit extra games into a smaller time period. This meant playing a few conference games in December, and it also meant forcing college students into quick turnarounds. For example, Indiana played three games in a five-day stretch in January.
While coaches ― some reluctantly ―agreed to the compressed schedule at the time, it’s clear that’s not best for the players.
“We won’t do it again this way,” Delany told The Chicago Tribune, “and I take responsibility for asking the coaches. … If we can make it back to the Garden on a regular week, that’s great.”
Is the Big Ten tournament staying East again next year?
Relax, it’s not. The Big Ten Tournament will bounce between Chicago and Indianapolis for the next few years.
2019 – United Center, Chicago
2020 – Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
2021 – Chicago
2022 – Indianapolis
The conference hasn’t announced what’s to come after that, but you can bank on a return East at some point.
“I know we will be back out East,” Delany told The Chicago Tribune. “Where we will be, I don’t know. It won’t be on a regular basis. I expect that 80 percent will be in legacy territory [Chicago and Indianapolis] and probably 20 percent out East, whether it’s in D.C. or Philadelphia or New York.”