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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Welcome to Big Ten Country

By Eamonn Brennan

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum share one of the oldest buildings in the nation's capital, a historic landmark built in 1836 to house the U.S. Patent Office. The paintings and photographs on the inside of the museum are only one reason to visit. The building itself, a classic Greek revival, is a work of art in its own right.

The east end of the building is bracketed by steps. Across the street is the Verizon Center, the downtown home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals and Mystics and Georgetown Hoyas basketball. Before events at Verizon, if the weather is nice, fans stream out of the Metro train station, pick up food from nearby restaurants and set up shop on the portrait gallery steps.

A few blocks east is the National Building Museum. If you go a block southwest, you can see Ford's Theatre. The White House isn't too far away. The National Mall is five minutes south.

Jim Delany
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is continuing to expand the conference's footprint into the East Coast.
Welcome to the home of the Big Ten.

On Tuesday afternoon, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sat in the Verizon Center's Acela Club room and formally announced news that broke early Monday evening: In 2017, after 17 years spent rotating between Chicago and Indianapolis, the Big Ten will bring its conference tournament to the Verizon Center.

The timing is no coincidence. Delany was joined at the podium by Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and coach Mark Turgeon; university president Wallace Loh was in attendance. On July 1, the Terrapins, alongside Rutgers, will become official members of the Big Ten. Delany is determined to greet their arrival with a major presence throughout the Northeast corridor.

"At the time Maryland came in, we set, I think, an aggressive goal to live in two regions of the country," Delany said. "Those were our words. We've been working awful hard the last 18 months to turn words into actions."

This week was proof of that push. On Monday, Delany was at Madison Square Garden in New York -- where the league recently opened a satellite office -- to announce a new competitive partnership with the Big East. The Dave Gavitt Tipoff Games, an eight-team event beginning in 2015-16, will pit the Big Ten and Big East in what both leagues hope will be a marquee season-opening event.

The league also added lacrosse power Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member, which will allow it to host its first conference championship in the traditionally East Coast-focused sport.

On Tuesday, the Verizon Center was lit up with the Big Ten's conference and team logos. The arena's video board featured men's basketball highlights from the previous season. The message was clear: This is the Big Ten's turf.

"The Big East is on the East Coast as well as the Midwest," Delany said. "We're in Midwest and on the East Coast. ... We want to move the ball. We want to move into a second region."

The question is why, and the answer is easy: television. The Big Ten Network has expanded by leaps and bounds since its debut in 2007; it now reaches nearly 50 million cable subscribers both inside and outside the conference's traditional footprint. In 2012, the league distributed about $23 million worth of (mostly) television revenues to its 12 members. In late April, according to an open-records request by the Louisville Courier-Journal, the league projected each school to receive nearly $45 million in 2017-18, in what would be the first year of a new television deal.

Delany touted the high number of alumni along the East Coast, as well as the number of "casual fans" he felt sure would come to enjoy the Big Ten's product. But the eastward expansion is a product of the same strategy that propelled the Big Ten Network in the first place: Fans' demand for college athletics and the networks that carry them, and the bundled economic model of large cable television providers.

Some of the almost 10 million homes in New York and Washington, D.C. alone -- to say nothing of regional areas and New Jersey, where Rutgers' following is strongest -- already receive the Big Ten Network. But there are many more homes to reach, and many more subscriptions to sell.

"We're in, and we have some distribution in, the East," Delany said. "I hope that we'll have complete and total integration and Big Ten distribution in the East in the coming months.

"We're not there yet. We won't get there overnight. These things take a little time to develop. But I'm confident we'll achieve distribution in these markets -- full distribution."

That, of course, is why the Big Ten took on Maryland and Rutgers in the first place. It's why Delany was eager to create a new event in partnership with the Big East. It's why the Big Ten will move its men's basketball tournament out of the central (and largely fan-convenient) Indianapolis and Chicago locations for the first time in nearly two decades in 2017.

And it's how the Big Ten commissioner found himself sitting across the street from the National Portrait Gallery, admiring the Big Ten logos in the Verizon Center, planting a flag hundreds of miles east of the league's Chicago home, speaking the language of the benevolent conqueror.

"We've come here not to visit," Delany said. "But to live."