WASHINGTON — Two years ago, the Big Ten changed its dynamic by adding Maryland and Rutgers, two schools from the Eastern seaboard that had previously played in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the American Athletic Conference, respectively.
Thursday, the Big Ten held its annual Men’s Basketball Media Day in the nation’s capital and will be returning in five months for the Big Ten Tournament, which will take place right in the heart of Washington D.C. at the Verizon Center. Next year, the conference will hold its end-of-season tournament in New York City at Madison Square Garden.
This geographical expansion has all been a part of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s plan for the Big Ten to become a “national conference.”
And so far, the Big Ten coaches have been satisfied.
“For us to get our tournament and our media day in places it hasn’t been and in great cities like D.C. and New York next year, these are great basketball cities,” said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. “The people in (Washington D.C.) are going to see a great product. They’re going to see great, high-level play in the tournament at the end of the season.
“Anytime you can gain more fans in different areas of the country, it’s great for our league. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
But the Big Ten shifting its events to the East Coast, specifically, has been important. That part of the country is home to numerous alumni from each of the conference’s 14 schools.
The shift has allowed the Big Ten, which is made up predominantly of schools in the Midwest, to reach more alumni and give fans an opportunity to support their alma mater in person.
“For Michigan, where so many of our alums are on the East Coast, it’s perfect for us,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “But not just us, but Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, their alums are all over this East Coast. You’re talking about the premier academic institutions in the United States all coming to the East Coast.”
Added Illinois coach John Groce: “We have 8,500 alums in New York, between six and seven thousand here in D.C., and that's just Illinois. … So obviously, it makes a lot of sense. I think it's great for us to branch out and really be in this area.”
Being close to alumni isn’t the only perk of the Big Ten’s expanding footprint.
With the Big Ten Network now in over 100 million homes across the country, high school recruits are exposed to the conference early on.
This, in turn, has made it easier for Big Ten coaches to recruit from across the country.
“We have a kid on our team from Seattle, and he’s able to watch all of our games on (Big Ten Network),” Collins said. “We have a couple kids from Boston and areas of that nature. The Midwest is always going to be our footprint, but for us to be able to branch out to some of these other cities because of the exposure of our conference, it really helps.”
But with all of the positives that have come out of the Big Ten’s geographical expansion, there have also been challenges.
In 2018, when the Big Ten Tournament is at Madison Square Garden, the conference will have to move its schedule up a week as the Big East had already reserved the venue for its own conference tournament.
Delaney mentioned counteracting this by experimenting with more conference games in December. While there have inevitably been challenges with the Big Ten expanding into areas outside its traditional boundaries, for the most part, the expansion has been successful.