Val Ackerman is a gangster.
As the 2018-19 college basketball season started to wind up, both Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and ACC Commissioner Jack Swofford got a chance to talk about playing their basketball conference tournaments in New York City last year and the opportunity to play there going forward. Both men indicated an interest in returning to the city and they definitely indicated an interest in playing at Madison Square Garden in the timeframe that has been occupied by the Big East since 1983.
Commissioner Ackerman wasn’t having any of that nonsense.
On Sunday, the Big East and Madison Square Garden announced an extension of the contract between the two that will keep the league’s conference tournament at its traditional home on its traditional weekend through the 2027-28 season. That is technically a two year extension on the old contract that ran through 2026, but as Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press reports, that contract had an opt-out clause in 2022. The new contract has no such clause and locks the Big East and MSG together for the next 10 editions of the Big East Tournament.
It’s not like this is a bad deal for The Garden, by the way. The Big East outdrew every single other conference tournament in the country in 2018, selling out three of the five sessions at The World’s Most Famous Arena and averaging 18,790 patrons. The ACC and Big Ten weren’t even second best, as that honor belongs to the Big 12. While running the same building as the Big East, the Big Ten sold out just one of seven sessions and averaged just short of 15,200 per session.
Sunday’s press conference announcing the agreement also contained a vague hint of possibility that the Big East will be strengthening its ability to sell conference tournament tickets in the near future. Ackerman commented on the possibility of conference expansion as part of the presser, pointing out that a move to 11 teams would still allow the Big East to retain its home-and-home league schedule. 11 teams = 10 opponents = 20 game round robin schedule, matching the current 20 game schedule that the Big Ten is playing as well as the 20 game schedule that the ACC will start next year.
“If we go to 11 (schools), we could keep the double Round Robin.” - Val Ackerman on any possible addition.— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) December 9, 2018
The most obvious candidate for expansion is Connecticut, given their history with the Big East. UConn would bring a little extra prestige and pedigree to the Big East, and returning to their ancestral home would be of benefit to them as well. As a member of the American Athletic Conference, they’re constantly making 2,000+ mile round trips to play league games. They’d be trading in trips to Houston and Dallas for Philadelphia and Providence, and on top of that, UConn would be getting a bigger payday in the Big East than they currently are in the AAC. Cheaper travel plus a more lucrative TV contract? Seems like a no-brainer.
There is one catch, of course, and that’s Connecticut’s football team. As long as the Huskies continue to play FBS football, they aren’t a perfect fit for the “no football” ethos of the Big East. If they move basketball (and presumably the rest of their other sports) to the Big East, the AAC isn’t going to want their historically awful football program around any more, and I don’t know what conference would be willing to take in the team as an orphan associate member. The whole thing may just come down to whether or not the Connecticut administration has the courage to pull the plug on football, add men’s lacrosse, and come on home where they belong.
Stay tuned, true believers.....