- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten hasn't hidden its desire to expand the brand to the East Coast in advance of Rutgers and Maryland joining the league July 1. A new league office is set up in New York City, and television agreements are being worked out with distributors in the region.
But no initiative -- other than bringing in Maryland and Rutgers -- sparked more reaction than the league's announcement that the 2017 men's basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington D.C. Since its inception in 1998, the hoops tournament had been held only in two Big Ten strongholds: Chicago and Indianapolis.
Concern mounted among fans and others that the Big Ten, through its desire to live in two regions, would alienate its base in the Midwest.
"Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said at last month's administrators' meetings. "While excited to have this new frontier, our foundation is in Chicago and Indianapolis and Detroit and other areas. I just want to make sure we protect our homeland while flanking out to a very important East Coast."
The Big Ten on Thursday let its core fans know it hasn't forgotten about them. The league announced future sites for its football championship game and men's and women's basketball tournaments. All of the events will be held in Indianapolis or Chicago.
Here's the breakdown:
Football championship game: Remains in Indianapolis through the 2021 season. The 2014 and 2015 events already had been announced for Lucas Oil Stadium, and the new agreement covers 2016-21.
Men's basketball tournament: Will be held at Chicago's United Center in both 2019 and 2021 and at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2020 and 2022. As previously announced, Chicago will host in 2015, Indianapolis will host in 2016 and Washington D.C. will host in 2017. Negotiations on the site for the 2018 event continue and an announcement should come later this month.
Women's basketball tournament: New agreement has the event at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse from 2017-2022. As previously announced, the 2015 event will be held at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and the 2016 event will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"We've always intended to use those cities," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com on Thursday. "They've been great partners. We're fortunate to have great fan bases in both places, tried and true success in both of these cities.
"It gives us a lot of stability going forward."
Despite the Washington D.C. event in 2017, Indianapolis and Chicago were always part of the Big Ten's future vision. There were "no surprises," Delany said. But he added that the Big Ten will continue its push to integrate in the East Coast.
"I'd be shocked if we didn't have very deep engagement in both regions," he said. "With the number of institutions, fan bases, cities, I'd expect there to be a rotation."
There won't be a rotation for the football championship game, at least in the immediate future. Delany still considers the game a new event that needs to be developed, and the league never seriously considered moving the game from Indianapolis in the next cycle.
There was no formal bidding process like there was in 2011, when groups from both Indianapolis and Chicago presented to the Big Ten athletic directors and coaches.
"We're not at the stage of experimentation with respect to indoor quality, the centrality of it; it's a new event," Delany said. "We've been cautious in trying to grow it, trying to understand it. We always thought it will be central. By the time we’ll finish up [the agreement], it will be 11 years there.
"After 11 years we’ll figure out how successful it’s been, how much it’s grown, whether that kind of alternative venue makes sense. But at this point, we're building it, stabilizing it, creating a great brand around it, making it as accessible as possible."
There's no doubt Indianapolis puts on a great event at a world-class facility and has logistical advantages over a site like Chicago. But Chicago remains the hub of Big Ten fans and should gain future consideration, as should other cities like Detroit and Minneapolis, which recently was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl for its new football stadium.
The Big Ten will continue to monitor cities and facilities. Delany gushed about the recent Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha, which set several attendance records.
"We've got a bowl game in Detroit, we've got hockey [tournaments] in Detroit and Minnesota, great sports towns, great sports venues," Delany said. "We will obviously watch the facilities and events that go there and will stay in close contact with those communities. As this cycle plays out, there will be more communications."
Bottom line: The football title game isn't leaving the Midwest any time soon, which makes sense with only two teams involved and often little time to plan. Big Ten basketball fans should prepare for other tournaments outside the traditional footprint. It's an easier event to move, because all 14 teams and fan bases are involved.
But Thursday's announcement signifies that the Big Ten still knows where its bread is buttered.