Big Loss for the Windy City and a Bigger Loss for the Big Ten

Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.” If sports leagues and conferences had any brains, they would apply Groucho's skeptical train of thought to cities that throw an overwhelming number of incentives to woo them. However, despite being a conference that generally makes solid and grounded decisions for its members (i.e. standing firm on not taking bastardized television time slots for conference football games), the Big Ten just made a huge mistake by choosing Indianapolis over Chicago as the permanent home of its annual conference basketball tournament (and this has nothing to do with my loyalty to the Illini, where I admit that I love our complete homecourt advantage at the United Center).

In this case, Indy was willing to throw a multitude of incentives that Chicago wasn't going to match. The Big Ten's move here smacks of the short-term decision by the NFL to put a team in Jacksonville as opposed having a club in the nation's second-largest television market of Los Angeles. From an immediate dollars and cents standpoint, I can understand the Big Ten's reasoning for choosing Indy, but this is not a positive long-term business move for the conference (in addition to this post, I went through a number of other reasons for this back in March).

The Big East used the locale of its tournament at Madison Square Garden to propel its entire conference to national prominence. That association with New York City provides extra intangible value to the perception of the league across the country. Using the Big Ten's recent logic, however, the Big East should move its tournament to Hartford, a town that's rabid for college basketball compared to New York and where the event would take over the entire city for the weekend. Something tells me that Mike Tranghese would seriously (and correctly) question the sanity of anyone who would suggest such a thing.

Yet, the Big Ten is essentially doing what pretty much any other conference would consider to be ludicrous. Now, is Indy proportionally a bigger college sports town than Chicago? Sure. Does Big Ten Tournament completely dominate Indy while it's treated as just another event on the full sports calendar in Chicago? Of course. However, we could say the same so-called advantages for Indianapolis about Hartford, Tucson, and Birmingham. The entire allure of holding an event in a large and sophisticated city is that people actually would want to visit that location even if there wasn't a tournament going on. It's the reason why the Big East chose NYC for its tournament, the Pac-10 planted itself in LA, and the SEC and ACC fight over turf in Atlanta as opposed to picking "intimate" cities where their respective events would be much bigger deals.

This isn't meant to slight Indianapolis, which is a fine town and by every account that I've heard and read has a fantastic basketball facility in Conseco Fieldhouse. However, just as the NFL was short-sighted in putting a team in Jacksonville as opposed to one in LA, the Big Ten not trying to do everything to tie itself to the nation's third largest media market (not to mention being a major base for alums from EVERY school in the conference as opposed to the Hoosier-Boilermaker oligopoly in Indy) is a failure in basic logic. I have previously argued that the Big Ten ought to try to become the beneficiaries of large market biases as opposed to being the victim of them. The Big East has New York, the Pac-10 has Los Angeles, and the Big Ten should have Chicago. Unfortunately, the Big Ten took a step backwards toward provincialism as opposed to solidifying the link the greatest conference in the nation to the greatest city in the world.