Nothing says Big Ten Basketball like New York City, right? League commissioner Jim Delaney apparently feels that is the case. He prioritized getting the Big Ten Tournament to Madison Square Garden even though it means a dramatic change to the conference schedule.
In order to play its tournament in the Garden, the Big Ten has to start a week earlier, on Feb. 28, because the Big East already has the normal tournament week locked up for it’s own tournament. In order to complete the regular season in time without wearing down the players, the league schedule is beginning the first week of December.
This change is of special interest to Huskers fans this year with Isaac Copeland’s status still up in the air. If he isn’t granted immediate eligibility, not only will he have to sit out the entire nonconference slate but he’ll miss the beginning of Big Ten play as well which could have a big impact on the Huskers’ place in the league standings.
From a league-wide scope, however, I have one question: why? Why does Jim Delaney feel the need to get the Big Ten Tournament to New York City?
“The Garden is the Garden,” Delany told ESPN for a story by Jeff Goodman. “It’s the mecca.”
That’s a nice cliche, but what does it really mean in today’s landscape of college basketball?
The Big Ten has expanded to the East Coast with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, but what exactly is the return on the special investment into those fan bases? Does Rutgers even have a fan base? (OK, that was probably a bit mean, but am I wrong?).
By trying to cater to the New England market, Delaney risks alienating the rest of the fan bases located in the Midwest where the heart of the conference is. A trip to New York City is far from cheap, especially when the best teams have NCAA Tournament trips to consider as well. Add in all the schedule gymnastics, and is it really worth it to play the Big Ten Tournament in New York rather than Indianapolis, Chicago or similar cities? I say no, but Delaney obviously disagrees. As the ESPN piece details, this move is all Delaney, and all the coaches aren’t completely in favor if it just yet.
A big reason for the uncertainty among coaches is what moving things up does for the end of the season. Big Ten games will be complete a full two weeks prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament, leaving tourney teams sitting at home while everyone else is still playing.
Teams will have plenty of options for those two weeks. Some might opt to schedule another game in that time, whether it be an exhibition against a Division II school, a lower level team or something else. Scheduling a scrimmage with a conference mate might be another. Or they could simply stay home and rest, which would no doubt help some teams at that time of the year. However, two weeks is a long time between games. Every option has a downside.
Unfortunately, the Big Ten to the Big Apple is a done deal regardless of how I (or the Big Ten coaches) feel about it.
What isn’t a done deal but could eventually happen, though is expansion from 18 league games to 20 according to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in another story by Goodman from earlier this week.
I’m not quite as opposed to this move as I am the tournament one, but it would produce a change in the way the seasons play out. Even more emphasis would be placed on conference play at the expense of the nonconference. With fewer games to schedule, we would likely see a reduction in series between upper-level teams. Most of the marquee nonconference games would likely be limited to those set up in exempt tournaments or inter-conference challenges.
According to Goodman’s story, part of the reasoning behind the move would be to replace some of the mismatches that populate early December, but I’m not entirely sure this would solve that problem. Instead, it would shift those games earlier. With fewer nonconference games, teams will likely cut back on facing fellow high-major opponents while maintaining a similar amount of cupcake games. Every league has its bottom feeders as well, so simply beginning conference play doesn’t guarantee a loaded slate of games right away.
Personally, I’m a fan of inter-conference clashes with the best of the Big Ten facing the likes of Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona and Villanova. But as long as I get to see quality match-ups, I’ll tune in regardless.
One thing is for certain: you can’t accuse Delaney of sitting back and cashing his checks. I do give him credit for trying to improve his conference, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the moves he’s making.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.