Considering conferences did not care about cannibalizing each other during realignment, it stands to reason that traditional geographical claims would not be respected.
Since 1983 when the conference moved its tournament to Madison Square Garden, New York City was considered the domain of the Big East. Last year, however, after playing its first 62 men’s basketball tournaments below the Mason-Dixon Line, the Atlantic Coast Conference moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Before then, the farthest north the ACC tournament had been was Washington, in 2005 and 2016. The ACC will be back in Brooklyn next month.
This season, the Big Ten is taking its shot at the Big Apple by playing its tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten, which played its first conference tournament in 1998, played in either Chicago or Indianapolis until last year, when it moved to Washington.
The addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten in 2014 expanded the conference’s footprint from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean.
“I can tell you that when Rutgers and Maryland, as new members, came into focus, it occurred to me that we needed to be very proactive about developing a presence in the corridor,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said, noting that the league had opened offices in New York. “College sports is thriving in New York City.
“We have slightly less than 100,000 Big Ten alums living in the area, slightly less than a million in this corridor, so we’ll be serving not only fans from the Midwest, but also many of our new fans and many of our legacy fans who have moved into this very important corridor.”
The Big Ten, in fact, moved the tournament up a week, Feb. 28 to March 4, so that it could get Madison Square Garden, which will again host the Big East Tournament beginning March 7.
Traditionally, the Big Ten played its championship game on NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday, after all the other “major” conferences had crowned their champions.
This year, the Big Ten will crown its champion before every conference except the Atlantic Sun, Big South and Missouri Valley.
The Big Ten, which will be idle for a week before Selection Sunday, has surrendered significance in pursuit of the lure of New York City. New York is the No. 1 media market in the United States.
With Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten can no longer look at itself as a Midwest conference anymore. The Big Ten Network has expanded to 60 million subscribers after seeing a significant increase with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers.
“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,” said Delaney, who wants an 80-20 split between the Midwest and East Coast for future tournaments. “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.”