Wisch: Bring The Big Ten Tournament Back To Chicago

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Indianapolis is a great basketball town.

I’ve been there for the first round of the NCAA Tournament (2005 at the RCA Dome). I’ve been there for the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament (2008 at Conseco Fieldhouse). And I’ve been there for the championship game of the NCAA Final Four (2010 at Lucas Oil Stadium).

I’ve had fun each time. And with its fan-friendly downtown, a bevy of bars within a three-pointer of Conseco and a hoops-happy populace, Indy deserves to host the Big Ten Tournament.

But Chicago does, too.

And once the Big Ten’s current contract to hold the tourney in Indianapolis expires after the 2012 event, the league needs to bring it back to Chicago and start alternating the tournament between the two cities once again.

That’s the way it used to be, of course. After the first four Big Ten Tournaments were held at the United Center, the conference began rotating the event between the Windy City and Indy. It worked well. But then in 2007, the league opted to award Indianapolis with a five-year pact to be the sole host of the event, and ever since the crowds have been less than stellar.

In 2009, the average attendance per session at the BTT dropped to a paltry 13,620 (an all-time low). Last year, it rebounded to 16,135. We’ll see how the numbers turn out this year, but the crowds didn’t look, well, particularly crowded at Conseco during Thursday’s quarterfinals games.

No matter what numbers Indy attracts this year, though, it will rank far behind the 21,954 average that the United Center reeled in during the 2005 tourney, when Illinois was ranked No. 1 in the nation. In its 14 years of existence, the top five tournaments attendance-wise have all been held in Chicago.

Now, I’m quite certain that the main reason why the Big Ten moved the event strictly to Indy was because most conference coaches felt that the Fighting Illini enjoyed too great a home-court advantage at the United Center. And to be fair to them, Illinois is 23-11 in the Big Ten Tournament since the event began in 1998. No other school has won more than 14 games. That is a definite edge.

But that hardly means that Chicago should lose the tournament completely. Nor does it mean it’s wise for the Big Ten to strip its marquee postseason event (until the Big Ten football game kicks off this December) from the biggest city within the conference’s footprint. There are an estimated 300,000 Big Ten alumni living within the Chicago area, and that’s a lot of potential ticket buyers who don’t have to make a long drive down I-65 … in this economy … with these gas prices.

“I would love it at the United Center,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said this week, stumping for Chicago. “The vote (by coaches to move the event to Indianapolis) was 10-1 and I voted. At the same time Indianapolis is a great venue. Everyone knows it. It’s a great environment and Conseco is a nice place to play.

“But for us to play at the United Center was special. And the one factor I don’t think anyone considered is that there are so many alumni from all the schools living in Chicago.”

Exactly. Like I said, Indianapolis is a great basketball town.

But Chicago is a great city.

And it deserves to the get the Big Ten Tournament back.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Bring The Big Ten Tournament Back To Chicago

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • bkbroiler

    Shocker he would feel that way since he graduated from Illinois. Is it me or is the Score becoming less objective each day? Even Bernstein is cheering like a little schoolgirl whenever a Chicago team wins.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      BK, it really has nothing to do with me being an Illinois grad. Sure, it’s a nice thing for Illini alums in Chicago when the tournament is at the UC, but it’s also a nice thing for the thousands of Michigan State alums, and Wisconsin alums and Michigan alums and Ohio State alums …

      And, if you hadn’t noticed, Illinois lost to UIC at the United Center this December. The Illini also lost to Gonzaga at the UC last season. The “home-court” advantage that Illinois enjoyed for many years has diminished as the Illini’s talent level has decreased.

      And I’m not saying that the tourney should be held only in Chicago. I think it should rotate between Indy and Chicago again. It’s silly for the Big Ten to keep the tournament completely from Chicago when the city is where its money and the bulk of its fan base is located. The Chicago market is crucial for the Big Ten, and it’s folly to not embrace that.

  • http://spungos.wordpress.com kevinjfisher

    Indy is a good venue, but Chicago would be a great change of pace every now and then. great city. I also think it’s good to have some sort of venue rotation for these things. unless you’ve got Madison Square Garden of course.


    • Larry Horse's Arse

      I’m from Indiana…often work in Indy…but Chicago would be THE venue for the Big 10.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        No knock on Indy at all. Like I wrote, I like the city a lot.

        It’s a great place to host a sporting event, whether it’s a BTT, a Final Four or a Super Bowl. And I’m sure it will do a fantastic job of hosting the Big Ten Football Championship Game this December.

        It’s just that boxing Chicago completely out of the equation for the BTT — even if coaches do fear a competitive disadvantage — just isn’t a savvy business decision for the Big Ten.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Agreed Dave…Chicago needs to be in the mix.

  • Bill Figel

    The easy part is to agree with Wish Mostly, I think the competition for the tournament is good for both cities. When they started the tournament years ago and Chicago hosted, there was a terrific reception at Navy Pier for fans from every team. The experience was terrific, kept people’s spending in the downtown area after a few free cold ones at Navy Pier and showed off one of Chicago’s many resources.

    Competition brings out the best in everyone, even two cities in need of revenue.

  • J-Dubya

    Home court advantage only matters if your team is pretty good. If I recall (Dave you would know this off the top of your head) a couple of Lon Kruger teams made it to the finals of the BTT after having average seasons. That could be from home court advantage, but I really doubt it. If they played in Champaign I would call that home court.

    I would say that Indy is home court for Purdue, Indiana, and Ohio State what Chicago is for Uof I & NW (nobody mentions them by the way).

    Basically what you need is a pro stadium. What about Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, etc. There are lots of places to host the game that are at least in close proximity to actual BT teams.

    If you want people to show up you come to Chicago. Period.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Illinois is 15-5 at the United Center in the BTT, which has been the host venue when Illinois has had some of its best teams under Self and Weber. And in 1999, Illinois was a last place team and it reached the finals. And in 2008, with Weber as coach, Illinois was a No. 10 seed when it reached the finals.

      The Illini are also 8-6 at Conseco, however, which isn’t a bad tourney record at all. For whatever reason, Illinois plays well in the BTT, no matter where it’s located, who the coach is and what the team’s seed is. But if homecourt advantage was the only factor in a team’s success, then IU and Purdue should be reaching the finals every season since it moved to Indy. They’re not.

      It’s just good business to have the tournament make a return to Chicago at least every other year. I think coaches need to not worry so much about a perceived homecourt advantage. Usually the best team does end up winning the BTT, although “Cinderellas” often do reach the finals.

      • J-Dubya

        I like the way that you plugged Chicago without bashing Indy. I would have handled that differently!

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Chicago as an anchor location for BTT will help drive ratings for the BT Network.
    I love Indy, truly love the town…but that’s it…it is a town and Chicago is a city (ya know what I mean).

  • Jeff Tatro

    Having been to both tournament sites over the years it should stay in Indianapolis. Indy has the better basketball venue and much more fan friendly downtown. Besides Illinois would have no more of an advantage in Chicago than Indianapolis. Bruce Weber has proven to be a loser in any city.

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