The Big Ten’s march to the east coast continued this week when it was announced that the Men’s Basketball Tournament would take place in Washington DC in 2017. The tournament had previously been rotating between Chicago and Indianapolis.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has led the conference to record profits in recent years, and this is just one more opportunity.
“We have a great amount of respect for basketball in this region of the country and are pleased that we were able to place this tournament at the Verizon Center at this first possible opportunity in March 2017,” Delany said.
It’s blatantly obvious that the Big Ten is trying to tap into the east coast markets. Rutgers and Maryland are the first of what could turn out to be many universities joining the conference. The recent wave of conference realignments isn’t over and is likely going to result in a few super groups that lack clear geographical borders.
The Big Ten has traditionally been a midwestern conference. That clearly isn’t the case anymore. Traditions change, especially with all the money being thrown around, and there was nothing set in stone about hosting the tourney at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse or the United Center.
That said, this is a terrible disservice to the fans. The Indy Star recently ran a debate piece where Zach Osterman and Zak Keefer each took a stance on the move. Both are excellent writers, and former classmates of mine, and they each make solid arguments for and against the issue.
Osterman attacks the issue from the financial standpoint, but he misses the point with his tradition stance. This isn’t about tradition, you hold the tournament in Chicago or Indianapolis because its closer to the vast majority of the universities and, therefore, to the fans. One of the biggest issues the Big Ten has had with the tournament is empty seats, so how is moving the event 600 miles away from the bulk of the fans going to sell more tickets?
Whenever Indianapolis hosts a big event, everyone knows that event is taking place. Even though fans don’t turn out in large numbers, it has still been difficult to get tickets to the tournament. Chicago may be a pain to navigate, but it is right in the heart of the conference and has more Big Ten alumni than any other city.
The TV contracts are already set, with games on the Big Ten Network and ESPN, and changing the venue isn’t going to get the conference more money on that end. This is a bigger expense for the schools and will severely cut down on the number of students attending what is usually a memorable event.
It seems like an awfully short-sighted move by the Big Ten. It may be one they end up regretting as the camera’s pan across row after row of empty seats in three years.