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Pope: Big Ten turns back on fans, tradition with men’s basketball tourney move to D.C.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany speaks during news conference VerizCenter Tuesday May 6 2014 Washington. Delany announced th2017 Big Ten

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany speaks during a news conference at Verizon Center, on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, in Washington. Delany announced that the 2017 Big Ten conference men's basketball tournament will be held in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) ORG XMIT: DCEV102

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Updated: June 8, 2014 6:39AM



Go East. And take tradition with you.

The Big Ten officially announced that its 2017 men’s basketball tournament will take place in Washington, D.C.

It will be the first time the tournament will be held outside of Chicago or Indianapolis.

There have been plenty of signs for the change leading up to the announcement.

The conference has stressed the importance of making Rutgers and Maryland feel welcome as its newest members. And the Big Ten wants to make its presence felt in that area. But this move is at the expense of some of the conference’s Midwest roots. And a bummer for a large portion of its fans.

That’s a shame. I’ve covered the event both when it was in Chicago and Indianapolis, seven times overall. And not only has the buzz been great inside the United Center and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but also in the restaurants and other establishments around those cities.

Walking from Bankers Life Fieldhouse to get a bite to eat at a nearby place, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll bump into Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan fans, as well as Indiana and Purdue supporters, along the way.

That’s always been one of the neat byproducts of the tournament.

It’s easy enough for fans to hop in a car and drive for a day or two of hoops. That won’t be the case when the games are at the Verizon Center.

And it’s not like attendance was an issue in recent years. The tournament has sold out each of the last two years. Two years ago in Chicago, a conference record of more than 124,000 showed up. Last year, more than 111,000 attended the tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the largest number for the event at Indianapolis.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany tried to calm those concerned about the move during a news conference that was streamed live online Tuesday.

“Change is difficult for people,” Delany said. “It’s important to look forward, but also look in the rearview mirror to see where you’ve been and where you want to go. I find change to be difficult for myself from time to time, when you’re asked to do something a different way. Sometimes you fight it a little bit.”

Delany used examples of some initial resistance to the Big Ten Network and Penn State’s addition to the conference and how both turned out to benefit the conference.

“People do struggle with change, I get that, try to be sensitive, but I also try to get enough persuasive momentum behind what we are doing to sustain the change,” he said.

But let’s take a step back and evaluate some of these recent changes. Rutgers and Maryland were added at a time when there was an expansion arms race. The Big Ten looked at the two schools and saw a way to make an imprint East. And also make more money with more eyeballs for the Big Ten Network.

The conference had gone two-for-two with the previous additions of Penn State and Nebraska. There hasn’t, to date, been as much excitement from fans about Rutgers and Maryland. Perhaps that will change in time.

I get trying to make a splash in D.C. and New Jersey/New York. But it will be interesting to see the reception the event gets in the area.

There are plenty of Big Ten alums in D.C. But I seem to recall noticing more Syracuse fans were in the building when IU met the Orange in the Sweet Sixteen at the Verizon Center a couple of years ago. Or maybe it just felt that way as the game got out of hand.

Delany made it clear that the 2017 tournament move is just the beginning.

“I think these events will live in the East as well as in the Midwest,” Delany said. “We’re fortunate to have a fabulous array of venues in the Midwest. There are some great ones on the East Coast. The precise ratio is unclear to me, but it will be regular. It will be a rotation and I think what we need to do is we have a variety of other interest which we have to integrate into that cycle.

“So I’ll be talking to our athletic director, our coaches and our presidents to make sure that everybody is familiar with the options and everybody supports the direction that we want to go with. I see us returning here (to D.C.). I see there being a regular rotation. We have three institutions in the East. We have 11 institutions in the Midwest. I don’t know what the precise rotation will be, but I can tell you we will be here regularly all over the coming decades.”

Change is here — whether it benefits the fans or not.



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