This season, the Big Ten made the controversial decision to host their games at Madison Square Garden. It was a horrible proposal from the start; the season would be condensed, teams would have to play grueling stretches with little rest, and the tournament date would be moved up a week, giving the Big Ten teams a week-long layover before the start of tournament play. Many were also angered by the move, noting that New York City is a city that has almost no affiliation with the Big Ten (well, you can count Rutgers, but let’s be real: no one cares about Rutgers). I thought that maybe the tournament would still succeed, especially since New Yorkers are rabid basketball fans and the ACC Tournament was a success last year at the Barclays Center.
One day in, it’s clear that I was wrong. MSG, which houses over 20,000, only saw 5,000 fans shuffle through their doors on Wednesday night, and there was such little energy that I wouldn’t have been shocked if someone told me that the game was an exhibition.
Now, Madison Square Garden is an excellent venue for college basketball, and the Big East tournament draws in huge crowds every year. While the Big Ten is arguably a more popular conference, the reason New York works so well for the Big East is the teams that it hosts. Almost half the conference consists of schools based in or around the tri-state area, and therefore draws many fans who are easily able to travel to the games and support their schools.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has just three schools within a 4-hour drive (Maryland, Penn State, and Rutgers), and many of the fans in attendance from other schools will almost certainly be graduates, since Michigan is the only school I can think of that has spring break at the moment. In other words, the Big Ten’s worst fears have been confirmed with a horrendous first day of action, and while there are still four days of basketball to be played, I think it’s safe to say that the Big Ten experiment at MSG is a certified disaster.