For two seasons, it appears the Big Ten will showcase its men's basketball tournament in venues that reflect its expanding footprint: The previously announced 2017 event in Washington, D.C., and the yet-to-be-set event in 2018 that reportedly may land in New York City.
Still, those seem better exceptions than rules, and the Big Ten's announcement on Thursday seemed to acknowledge as much. The league will rotate the men's basketball tournament between traditional host cities Chicago and Indianapolis from 2019 to 2022, and rooting the event in the Midwest makes too much sense to ignore.
Potentially shifting the tournament to the East Coast for two seasons is a fair enough nod to newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, both of whom officially join the Big Ten this summer. The idea that the tournament would take over Madison Square Garden for a week in 2018 -- as reported by the Chicago Tribune on Thursday -- also has a Jim Delany wish-fulfillment vibe to it, as the commissioner grew up in New Jersey and played college basketball at North Carolina before he became one of the most formidable figures in the college football landscape.
With the annexation of the new schools, moving the event after what will be 19 straight tournaments in either Chicago or Indianapolis was inevitable. But the bulk of the people interested in these tournaments still reside in the Midwest. A reported 111,592 fans passed through Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis during the six sessions of the 2014 tournament. It was 124,543 total in Chicago in 2013, and 107,737 in 2012 in Indianapolis. The strength of the trend in the Midwest locals appears clear, and the novelty of East Coast Big Ten tournaments likely would wear thin quickly.
"These two cities have been tremendous hosts and partners with first-class facilities and an outstanding base of Big Ten alumni and fans who support conference events," Delany said in a statement. "We are proud of the history that we have developed with these two great cities and look forward to maintaining a significant presence in both locations.” The Big Ten was bound to visit unfamiliar lands as soon as it welcomed unfamiliar partners in Maryland and Rutgers. After 2022, it'll probably explore (or revisit) some more territory. Thursday's announcement was a signal that it won't forget where it came from.