By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) It’s said that Chicago is pro sports town, and it is.
But it’s also home to hundreds of thousands of passionate Big Ten alumni – not to mention all those Notre Dame grads and fans – which very much makes the Windy City a stronghold for college sports lovers, as well.
New York City, on the other hand, is indeed a pro sports town.
Colleges need not apply.
At least, that’s always been the belief – and in large part, the reality – when it comes to sports passions in the Big Apple. But don’t tell that to the Big Ten and the ACC, which both are looking to plant their flag in NYC and convince the 8 million pairs of eyeballs in its boroughs to tune them in.
So, can New York actually be turned into a college town? Well, that’s a huge question mark. But considering the potential upside, why shouldn’t the Big Ten and ACC give it the old college try?
Earlier this week, ACC officials gathered in New York City to hold the official kickoff event for their new-look, 15-team league, which now includes Syracuse and Pittsburgh in all sports and Notre Dame in all sports but football. In explaining the site for their kickoff event, ACC commissioner John Swofford explained, “This is a very prominent city from a media standpoint, from a sports standpoint.
“It has not been in our footprint in our past, but it is now, as of today. We want to treat it with the appropriate level of importance we think it has.”
So important does the ACC now consider NYC that it’s now talking about staging its celebrated conference basketball tournament in town, rather than Greensboro, N.C., in the heart of “ACC country” where it’s traditionally been held.
“If you’re going to be the best basketball conference, you have to rotate through New York City,” Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey told USA Today. “I will be confident that we’ll get through here. I don’t know how long. Obviously, we’re in Greensboro, (N.C.) for two more years. But I think it’s something that’s going to have to happen given how this league has changed as of today.”
Currently, Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center are already spoken for through 2017 with the Big East continuing to hold its postseason tourney in the former while the Atlantic 10 has already booked the latter.
The ACC, however, will likely jump at the first chance it gets to sign a deal to play at either. And don’t be stunned if some day, Jim Delany looks into holding the Big Ten’s conference basketball tournament in the Big Apple, too. After all, the commissioner has also been plotting his own assault on New York City for quite some time.
In November 2012, Delany told ESPN that, “It’s pretty obvious that the paradigm has shifted, and it’s not your father’s Big Ten” when he announced the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to give the conference a foothold in the East Coast.
Delany already has plans to open an office in New York City next summer around the time that the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins officially join the league. And last month, the Big Ten announced that it has agreed to an eight-year contract with the Pinstripe Bowl, which will guarantee a conference team playing in Yankee Stadium every year starting in 2014.
The Big Ten’s opponent during the first six years of the deal?
Well, the ACC, of course.
“When we began planning we had an objective to end up in New York at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl,” Delany said in June. “We’re in the east now with Maryland and Rutgers. Not only is New York the financial capital, sports capital of the country, but it is the place you need to be if you truly want to present a national slate of bowl games.”
The bowl contract, which also includes Big Ten signage for all Yankees home regular season games starting in 2014, prompted team owner Hal Steinbrenner to say, “No doubt having the Big Ten is going to take (the Pinstripe Bowl) to new heights. My family can definitely be considered a Big Ten family. My mother went to Ohio State. Dad (the late George Steinbrenner) coached football at Northwestern and Purdue. So from a family standpoint we’re very excited.”
Delany, no doubt, was excited too. To celebrate the occasion, he even threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. Now the question is whether his conference’s pitch will connect with New Yorkers. The same goes for the ACC, as the nation’s biggest pro sports city becomes the stage for a major college drama.
The performance is certainly going to be interesting to watch.
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. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.