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My Column: Jim Delany’s Questionable Move To New York City

Why the hell is the Big Ten Tournament in NYC?

NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten tournament, in case you hadn’t heard, is next week, and it’s in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Almost nobody likes this idea.

The tournament is also a week earlier than usual. Absolutely nobody likes that.

Big Ten fans have the following questions:

  • Isn’t New York City farther east than all fourteen Big Ten schools? (It is.)
  • Wasn’t the most-attended Big Ten Tournament ever in Chicago? (It was.)
  • Did anybody go to the Tournament last year in DC? (Very few.)
  • Doesn’t downtown Indy have the perfect combination of hotels, restaurants, and other attractions around Banker’s Life Fieldhouse? (It does.)
  • This is all Rutgers’ fault, isn’t it? (Um...)

But, keep in mind, that this decision wasn’t made recently; it was announced back in 2014, and was in the works even earlier than that. Let’s look at what was happening circa 2013:

  • The Big East had just divorced, with the Catholic schools going one way and adding Butler, Xavier, and Creighton and the state schools going the other way and forming the AAC.
  • The ACC had just added Syracuse and came this close to adding UCONN. The ACC also announced that its tournament would be coming to the Barclay’s Center.
  • ESPN was still flying high as the worldwide leader in sports. Cord-cutting was only in its nascent stages.
  • The Big Ten Network was raking in the cable subscription fees.
  • The Big East had just signed a deal with Fox Sports One, then a brand-new operation. The deal included the rights to the Big East Tournament.

New York City had been a Big East town ever since the mid-1980s. During the second week of March, the most important city in the world turned its attention to Madison Square Garden, and the Big East could put on one hell of a show. But with no Syracuse, no UConn, no Rutgers, could the league still hold the fascination of the Big Apple with Seton Hall and St. Johns as the only local schools?

New York City was up for grabs. The ACC wanted it. So did the Big Ten.

The safe play would have been for the Big Ten to play its tournament in the Barclay’s Center every so often like the ACC. But Jim Delany didn’t make his name by playing it safe. Rather than play in Brooklyn like a bunch of plebes, he wanted the Big Ten to plant its flag in Manhattan. That meant Madison Square Garden.

Now, the Big East had the Garden on lockdown for the next few years, but at that point nobody knew whether the ten-team league—all ten smaller private schools, five of them sitting in the Midwest—would continue to make money for the Garden.

If attendance tanked, the MSG Powers That Be would have been very receptive to a deal that included the Big Ten coming to town every three years. And for a league with half its members in the Midwest, would it have been so terrible for the Big East to play every third year in Chicago instead?

If the Big Ten could show that it was a bigger draw in MSG than the Big East, we could have our share of the giant NYC pie. Sure, we’d never be able to fully dislodge the Big East, but they were a rump league on a channel nobody knew about. The real goal was to outdo the bigger enemy, the ACC.

But since then, the following things happened, all of which make the decision look worse in hindsight:

  • The Big East Tournament didn’t drop off as much as you’d expect. Who knew Creighton fans traveled so well? Madison Square Garden re-upped their current deal with the Big East.
  • The importance of cable subscriptions diminished as everybody and their grandma began cutting the cord.
  • Providence and Seton Hall got a lot better at basketball. Villanova won a National Championship.
  • The ACC did not add UConn.
  • Rutgers experienced some of the worst years in its basketball history, and that’s saying something.
  • Fox Sports One hired both Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson to call Big East games. Onions!

So here we sit, playing in Madison Square Garden a week early. Even the Commissioner himself isn’t happy with the scheduling crunch that resulted from moving the tourney from its usual date.

I appreciate the sacrifices the teams made, the impact it had on our students,” Delany said. “Wasn’t good. Wasn’t healthy. I thought starting (the conference schedule) early was OK, but if you look at our schedules (through the years), we’ve been able to give everybody two-day prep (before games) in 99 percent of the cases. [Editor’s note: Delany must not have read the BTP article showing that rest doesn’t matter.]

“We won’t do it again this way, and I take responsibility for asking the coaches. … If we can make it back to the Garden on a regular week, that’s great.

Now, it’s not all bad. I’ve had a lifetime dream of going to all five days of the Big Ten Tournament, and I just so happen to have friends in New York. I can go visit the Big Apple, see the Big Ten Tournament, and then still be able to catch all the other major tournaments on TV a week later. In terms of maximizing the amount of top-shelf basketball I watch, this schedule is ideal.

Oh, and tickets are cheap. I got an all-session pass for $147. That’s less than $12 a game.

In fact, all-session tickets for the Big Ten Tournament are cheaper than any other league. Current prices on StubHub are:

  • Big Ten: $147
  • Big 12: $160
  • Big East: $215
  • ACC: $215
  • SEC: $260
  • Pac-12: $320

In case you’re wondering how the Pac-12, a terrible league in a region where nobody cares about basketball, is in such high demand, their tournament is in Las Vegas.

Don’t get any ideas, Commissioner Delany.