WASHINGTON (AP) — Tom Izzo is coming up on 20 years as Michigan State’s basketball coach, so if anyone might be skeptical about moving the Big Ten Conference tournament to the East Coast, it would be him.
Like some fans, Izzo did have his doubts initially when Commissioner Jim Delany decided to put the league’s 2017 men’s basketball tournament at Verizon Center in Washington.
“I’m probably one of the guys that at first said, ‘Is he nuts?’ I’m not going to lie to you,” Izzo said Tuesday, when Delany formally announced the site will host games March 8-12, 2017. “But I look at the track record, and how we’ve handled things, and how our conference has grown, and I just say, ‘Wow, this is going to be another win-win-win.'”
One thing Izzo likes: getting a foothold in a region with traditional high school basketball powers such as DeMatha.
“We’ve recruited out here a little bit, but not a lot, because it’s been hard to get kids to really embrace Big Ten schools because it’s ‘ACC Country.’ Now it’s ‘Big Ten Country’ and ‘ACC Country,'” Izzo said. “It gets us in a whole other area.”
That’s part of why Delany wanted to head East, with Maryland and Rutgers officially joining the league on July 1.
“We’ve come here not to visit, but to live,” Delany said, adding later: “These events will live in the East as well as in the Midwest.”
Chicago and Indianapolis, the tournament’s traditional hosts, will continue to hold the event, but Washington will become part of what Delany called a “rotation.”
“I see us returning here,” Delany said. “I don’t know what the precise rotation will be, but I can tell you we’ll be here regularly over the coming decades.”
That bothers some longtime fans of the league, which is mainly filled with Midwestern schools such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. Putting the conference tournament in Washington makes for a longer trip for current students, and for alumni in that part of the country (on the other hand, as Delany noted, it’s a shorter trip for alums on the East Coast).
“Looking from the outside, it seems like attendance would be an issue. … Now you’re asking people to go a long way to watch a basketball game,” said Dan Dakich, an ESPN college basketball commentator and host of an Indianapolis radio sports talk show.
“I would imagine fans in Minneapolis, Chicago, maybe the traditional Big Ten areas, aren’t too happy about it,” Dakich said. “That’s the way life goes sometimes, man.”
Nick Shook, a 25-year-old software engineer in Indianapolis and Big Ten fan, said he’d prefer to stick with the way things have been.
“You need to keep tradition. You need to keep the Big Ten tournament in ‘Big Ten Country.’ They say it’s about expanding the brand,” Shook said. “To most people it seems like a money grab.”
Delany understands the viewpoint of those who prefer a Midwest site for the tournament. But he pointed to previous changes the conference made that were initially questioned but now are seen as positives — the addition of Penn State and the creation of the Big Ten Network, which he said he’s confident will eventually have “full distribution” in the D.C. area.
“When I first met with Jim, he said, ‘We’re going to have a face on the East Coast,’ and a lot of times it’s lip service when you’re joining a league,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “He came through as quickly as he could come through.”
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.
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