The interest began almost immediately, right after University of Maryland President Wallace Loh stood behind a microphone inside the school’s student union and announced its conference change almost 18 months ago. The Big Ten, Maryland’s new home starting July 1, wanted to expand into the East Coast. After locking down flagship institutions in both the Washington D.C. and New York markets, why not start moving events there too?
“We’ve been looking at our tournaments and whether it’s football or basketball and what we want to do is get out East ASAP,” Commissioner Jim Delany said in an recent interview.
On Tuesday, at a news conference featuring Delany, Maryland Athletics Director Kevin Anderson and Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon, the Big Ten will announce a partnership with Verizon Center to host its 2017 men’s basketball tournament at the downtown arena. In a period of transition, with logos changing on campuses and final preparations taking shape, the impending news marks the most important example of the Big Ten’s desire to plant itself in Washington.
“It’s probably the biggest one, but it won’t be the last big one,” Delany said.
Through a 15-minute interview, Delany repeatedly promised that the nation’s capital would host more Big Ten events in the future. The basketball tournament has never moved from the Midwest — Chicago and Indianapolis the only two cities to host — but is unsigned beyond 2017. The league is currently finishing construction on a second office space in New York City and will have permanent satellite offices in the District. Recently, it signed a new deal with the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, welcomed Johns Hopkins into the league as a lacrosse-only participant and announced a partnership for an early-season basketball series with the Big East.
“I think you’ll see more announcements and more competition and more partnerships and collaborations in the coming weeks and months,” Delany said. “As we move towards July 1 and the corporate integration of the two schools into the Big Ten, I think you have seen and will see more decisions, more efforts to live and to plant a flag and to be real in two regions.”
Verizon Center hosted the ACC tournament in 2005 and will do so again in 2016. It has annually welcomed the BB&T Classic since its inception in 1995 and held NCAA tournament rounds in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2013. Still, Delany saw an untapped market, one stuffed with Big Ten alumni, to host an unfamiliar event with national powerhouses.
“In a way,” he said, “because there haven’t been a lot of tournaments there. I don’t know how regular, but we’re going to be here on a regular basis. I don’t know if it’s every three years or four years or five years or six years, but we’re going to get out and we’re going to have a presence. We’re going to live in two areas. We’ve got phenomenal places in Chicago and Indianapolis. Those are great facilities. But D.C. is a great town. They’ve had great players, great high school players, great coaches, and Maryland has got a great tradition. I think it’s important for us to get there, show partnership, show our intentions and to build. I’m hoping by actions, not by words, but by actions, that we can make friends and become more relevant and build, not only new fans but also bring in existing fans to taste it, to participate it, to start a new tradition. This helps us bind two regions together. We’re two regions, one conference. It’s just the first step. But I think it’s a noteworthy step.”
Delany also said the league will have access to office space in Washington D.C. Unlike in New York City, where a small, permanent staff will be located, the D.C. offices will be for meetings, particularly if schools want to sit down with government officials. The location has not been finalized, Delany said.
“We haven’t nailed it,” he said. “We know what we’re going to do, but we’re not public about it yet.”
Asked about the ongoing migration process for Maryland and Rutgers, with the official date less than two months away, Delany said coaches have been attending Big Ten meetings, offering their opinions without a vote, which won’t come until July 1. Delany has visited College Park several times and conducted at least six meetings with the Maryland community, whether at an alumni event in New York two weeks ago or at Congressional Country Club last summer.
“It is exciting for me,” Delany said. “I think what we did was significant, serious business and I want us to be engaged and to work as hard as we can to embrace new traditions to build in this area, to zip up the conference from east to west and north to south. Our coaches and our ADs and our presidents have all been very supportive of these moves. You’ll be seeing other ones over the coming weeks and months before July 1, which I think just demonstrates the seriousness of us living in the two regions and binding it together.”