The Midwest will remain home to the vast majority of Big Ten championships, the conference announced Thursday.
Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium secured the football title game through 2021, while Chicago’s United Center will host the men’s basketball tournament in 2019 and 2021 (plus previously announced 2015) and Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse gets the call in 2020 and 2022 (plus 2016).
The 2017 basketball tournament will go to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the conference announced last month. That’s a nod to Maryland, which officially joins the Big Ten along with Rutgers on July 1.
The year of intrigue is 2018. Sources told the Tribune that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has targeted New York’s Madison Square Garden and that Delany met with MSG officials Wednesday in New York.
Delany told the Tribune it’s “premature” to speculate about a deal being worked out at MSG, adding: “We’ll make a decision (on 2018) in a couple of weeks, not any shorter.”
Staging its tournament at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” in the nation’s financial and media capital, would be a huge coup for the Big Ten — and a way to welcome in Rutgers, located less than 40 miles from midtown Manhattan.
Madison Square Garden has a long-term deal to host the Big East tournament, so one of the conferences — likely the Big Ten — would have to be flexible in its dates.
Delany is said to be bullish on Madison Square Garden, but he’ll need to persuade Big Ten presidents and chancellors to green-light the expensive proposition. He’ll stress the branding opportunities provided by New York, site of a new Big Ten office.
The football component of the news, while not surprising, is a mild blow to officials in Chicago (Soldier Field), Detroit (Ford Field) and Minneapolis, which has a new stadium opening in 2016.
Delany said Indianapolis will remain the home of the football championship through 2021 because it “has one of the best football facilities in the country, and it’s centrally located.”
“We are putting a premium on growing the game before we experiment (with new locations),” Delany said. “We take risks when it makes sense to take risks. Five or six years from now, we’ll have a track record and we’ll survey to see how fans have reacted and whether it’s time to put out a bid (for the game) and branch out.”
Delany implied that keeping the basketball tournament in Chicago and Indianapolis in most years was an easy call.
“I always say Chicago is the greatest sports town,” he said, “not only because of the fans’ affection for the Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Hawks and Bulls, but because they love their college sports. We’ll always be related to Chicago; it’s where we were founded and where we have the largest concentration of Big Ten alumni.
“We are a two-region conference. We have more than two great cities for basketball, but we have two (Chicago and Indianapolis) that are exceptional.”
Indianapolis will host the women’s basketball tournament from 2016 to 2022. The Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates gets it in 2015.