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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)
NEW YORK — As this weekend's Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden wound toward Sunday's Purdue-Michigan championship, I revisited my personal derision of the decision to put the conference's tournament in this venue, enough to warrant a mea culpa:
Hosting the Big Ten tournament in New York worked. The atmospheres were good. Many of the league's fan bases turned out well, so much so that Saturday marked the tournament's first session sellout since the 2014 Big Ten title game. Saturday's crowd, bolstered by a Michigan-Michigan State semifinal, numbered 19,812, the largest at any Big Ten tournament game since 2013.
Even Rutgers, part of the reason the Big Ten has shifted its gaze so far east, did its bit, winning twice and playing Purdue to the wire Friday night.
"I was surprised by how many Rutgers fans actually showed up," said NBCSports.com's Rob Dauster. "That was kind of cool. The whole point of having it here was the Big Ten footprint in New York, and then Rutgers fans showed up."
The decision by Commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten's brain trust to shift this event, as well as that gaze, to the Atlantic seaboard has been met with widespread scorn in the past two years.
Some of that was deserved. The tournament didn't really seem to capture much energy in Washington last year, for example. And Delany himself told the Chicago Tribune the condensed conference schedule — built to accommodate both this move and the conference's new TV commitments — "wasn't healthy" and will not be repeated.
"I appreciate the sacrifices the teams made, the impact it had on our students," Delany told the Tribune last month.
And that's fair enough. The Big Ten has become one of college sports' trend setters because of its willingness to push the envelope.
It's equally important to realize when something doesn't work, and leave it in the waste basket. The condensed schedule was a sacrifice too far. Delany wouldn't rule out a New York move again in the future, but in that same interview with the Tribune, he said it would only happen during the conference's traditional March window.
"We won't do it again this way, and I take responsibility for asking the coaches," he said. "If we can make it back to the Garden on a regular week, that's great."
That would seem to rule out a return until at least 2027, as the Big East's contract with MSG doesn't run out until 2026.
And that's fine. Brands are built as much on exclusivity as exposure. Don't overdo a good thing. But also don't overlook the outcome. This was a good thing.
Should the Big Ten tournament be here every year, or even every five? No.
Would a return to D.C., or a move elsewhere in the east, a possibility Delany floated to the Tribune, be a tough sell? Probably.
But with as much conviction as I can muster — and as a self-professed skeptic of all of this, who roundly mocked last year's stop in Washington — believe me when I say again:
The Garden was undoubtedly part of it. I don't know if this plays as well if it's at Brooklyn's Barclay's Center, but the Garden adds mystique.
"I've been to the Garden enough to know how special the Garden is," said Big Ten Network lead studio host Dave Revsine. "It's just different. It's different if you're playing in the Garden."
Revsine wasn't the only one impressed.
"Crazy atmosphere," said Carsen Edwards, Purdue's first-team All-Big Ten guard. "It's a blessing just to be here and have this opportunity. I really enjoy playing here."
The Big Ten tournament will be back in the Midwest for at least the next four years, alternating between Chicago (next year) and Indianapolis in that time. What comes next is unclear, but after this weekend, I'll keep an open mind.
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