I understand that Big Ten hoops are a big business.
The men’s iteration of the sport more or less carries a TV network on its own in addition to providing compelling, well-rated content for ESPN, CBS and anybody else who pays Conference Commissioner/mustaches-as-eyebrows enthusiast Jim Delany’s bulbous contract.
It only makes sense that conference and TV executives are openly floating the idea of moving the conference tournament to Washington, D.C., or at least adding it into the Chicago-Indianapolis rotation. It’s a major East Coast hub with a shiny arena, affluent fan base and close proximity to the league’s newest school, the University of Maryland.
Wait, I’m sorry, allow me to batter my amateur inner-Darren Rovell and speak to you like a damn human.
Big Ten (14) hoops is about cold-ass Saturdays, dragging your frozen bones into a stuffy arena on some wind tunnel that calls itself a campus in February and watching some of the best college athletes in America stymie one another in a brutal rendition of Football II: No Pads.
Its tournament is about the electric pulse in a reasonably-priced, reliably-frozen city when everyone is wondering who will come out on top in a matchup of teams who have already seen each other twice and are ready to go Mola Ram on their opponents.
It’s about the last game before Selection Sunday in the heart of our region — the cities where our moms took our sisters to shop, where our dads lent us their fuzzy-ball topped toques when that sort of thing was worn un-ironically as they walked us into our first pro sporting events, where we could drive in a day and get home in time to catch a few hours of sleep before shoveling off the driveway for school on Monday.
And now the league wants to take that — our pleasure pried for the jaws of our misery, a prime-time event in our cities — and move it to D.C., AKA Hollywood for Ugly People.
At best — and I’m not using that as a throwaway phrase, really, at best—it’s a deeply cynical play for more advertising and sponsor revenue. At worst it’s a blatant attempt to re-brand (read: evict the soul of) a league that built its reputation in the Upper Great Lakes and Midwest as a “national conference” devoid of any affiliation other than to the dollar and TV viewer.
Either end of that spectrum should shock and offend fans of the conference. By that, I mean the expat Hawkeyes who trek back weekly to Iowa City across a particularly spirit-crushing stretch of I-80 in the middle of winter. The Hoosiers who faithfully load the car up and head north hundreds of miles for nearly every league game from their pseudo-Southern outpost in Bloomington. The young Spartan fans who finish up their homework in the car while dad merges onto I-94 to see the team in Chicago.
These are the people who doused the league in the sports equivalent of venture capital since the GI Bill expanded their university’s reach to more than just the elites. These are the people who put the Big Ten in a position to be a poacher instead of one of the mindless rabble of prey during the great expansion of power conferences. To rip one of their signature events away from them now is the sports equivalent of Prima Nocta.
‘But,’ you might think, ‘shouldn’t we consider the fans of Rutgers and Maryland, who are now full members of this league?’ Screw them and the money-grubbing train their administrations loaded them up on. You’re guests at a party that’s been going on for generations. Come on in and get used to the car ride or springing for plane tickets. Eat at our wonderful delis, enjoy our iconic stadiums, and who knows, after 40, 50 years, maybe we’ll want to head over to your house.
But shame on the league for even thinking about orchestrating such a move to an impersonal cesspool like our nation’s capital. It’s a bald-faced application of Goldman-esque thinking to a culture that was carefully crafted and handed down to us by our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, schoolteachers and bus drivers.
It’s an attempt to capitalize on a new market as soon as it’s added to the fold. It lacks respect, dignity and decency. It’s a good business decision, and I hate it.