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In Defense of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden

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The conference has been getting a lot of underserved crap for hosting its tournament in New York City

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Indiana vs Rutgers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the Big Ten’s first-ever conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, there’s been much ballyhooing and bellyaching over the league’s decision to take its postseason East for a second consecutive year.

You’d be hard pressed to throw a penny off the Empire State Building without hitting a member of the media who’s spouted off a laundry list of 240 character hot takes and cheap shots in regards to the Big Ten Tournament in New York City.

Hell, even Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has gone on record to criticize his own decision to take these games to the Big Apple.

Well I’m here to more or less let Jimmy off the hook, albeit with one notable exception.

Right off the bat, I’ll concede one point to the critics - condensing the regular season schedule just to find an open window of time at MSG was shortsighted and has negatively impacted the conference in a number of ways.

From weakening coaches abilities to schedule worthy non-conference opponents to forcing teams into some super quick turnarounds, it might not be best to microwaving the Big Ten schedule in the future.

The leagues heart was in the right place though, they just didn’t pay enough concern to the execution. That’s where my list of critiques starts and ends.

Now as for all those naysayers, lets tackle the more common talking points I’ve heard one-by-one.

“The Big Ten is a Midwestern league and the conference tournament should be in the Midwest!”

The NCAA and its conferences gave up the idea of regionality over a decade ago when they started playing million dollar musical chairs. No longer do programs rotate around a centralized location like planets around the sun. Schools have traded in the Grey Hound busses in favor of charter plans as a need dictated them to travel across state lines and through timezones.

For crying out loud, over 1,200 miles separate Lincoln, Nebraska from Piscataway, New Jersey, so long road trips have been normalized in the Big Ten and beyond.

So yes, while the league offices may reside in the Midwest, the Big Ten’s member institutions span across more than half the country.

And this widening landscape isn’t a unique Big Ten issue but one plaguing all of college athletics.

Connecticut will be traveling 1,200 miles to Orlando for the American Conference Tournament, while Miami is putting almost 1,300 miles on the odometer to get to the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn.

Hopping on and off planes is the new normal for college athletes. Geography no longer matters.

“Having the tournament in New York creates a traveling nightmare for a bulk of the Big Ten teams and their fanbases!”

You want to talk about a nightmare? Since Maryland and Rutgers joined the league in 2014-’15 and prior to last years tournament in Washington D.C., only four teams logged over 1,000 miles traveling to Indy and Chicago for those respective Big Ten Tournaments. And outside of Nebraska (sorry Cornhuskers) that group is made up of the Big Ten’s three East Coast-based teams.

Big Ten purist might still hate the fact that Rutgers and Maryland joined the league. But they did and deserve an opportunity to play host once and awhile.

By having the past two tournaments in D.C. and New York, miles traveled per each team has become much more balanced across the board.

“No one in New York is paying attention to the Big Ten Tournament!”

Curve ball: I agree with this. Second curve ball: That’s a good thing.

No one in New York is paying attention to the Big Ten Tournament because there’s five billion other things to do in the Big Apple.

Broadway shows. Comedy clubs. World-class restaurants. Amazing shopping. The Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island. The 9/11 Memorial. That’s only a small list of the attractions that can fill up an itinerary when visiting the City That Never Sleeps.

Something like the Big Ten Tournament should be a destination for fans that are traveling to the games. New York allows them to make the basketball just part of their vacation and not the whole damn thing.

Go up to 1000 strangers and tell them you’re willing to fund an all-expenses paid trip to either Indianapolis or New York City. Are there 20 people who pick Indy? How about 10?

What about if I sub in Washington D.C. for New York? How about Philadelphia?

Treat the tournament like the special event and experience it should be. Put it in places that matter. Give fans a reason to travel.

“The price of tickets on StubHub are a joke. The Garden will be a ghost town.”

Welcome to the twenty-first century everyone. Literally every conference tournament has dirt cheap tickets and empty seats.

As for the crowd itself? I was at both sessions on Thursday and Friday and while the place wasn’t packed to the rafters the crowds were good. Actually, really good. New York City is a melting pot, and for one week at least, the Garden is too as I’d be hard pressed to tell you which fan base has been best represented.

On top of that, Madison Square Garden is the Holy Grail of basketball venues. There isn’t a bad seat in the place. The amenities are off the chart. It makes for a great place to camp out for eight or nine hours a day.

Look, I’ve pooped on Indianapolis a little bit in this column. I’m not advocating for the conference tournament to never return to Indy, but instead saying that a little bit of variety is a good thing. Rutgers, Maryland, and to a lesser extent, Penn State need to stop being looked at as dead weight and instead be valued for the markets they open up.

The Big Ten has shown that engaging with fans on the East coast is a priority. And they’ve had success with events like the hockey-basketball Super Saturday doubleheader at MSG. So I don’t see them throwing in the towel on its continued efforts to extend the leagues brand.

A rotation that brings postseason hoops to New York, D.C. or Philly every three or four years is a good thing for the conference. It keeps things fresh, exposing the collegiate game to new places and fresh faces outside of those in Chicago and Indiana.

I get while those in America’s Heartland are upset. I hear your complaints but encourage you to take another look at your half-empty glasses and see this years Big Ten Tournament for what it is.

So far, what it’s been is a hell of a lot of fun. And I say we do it again*.

*in an appropriate number of years with proper thought put forth in the execution.