The Big Ten received bids last week from Indianapolis and Chicago camps regarding future football and basketball championship/tournament sites.
On the men’s basketball side, Indianapolis offered Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Big Ten Tournament for the last four years and next spring as well. Chicago pitched the United Center, which has played host to seven previous tournaments, the last coming in 2007.
Although Indiana is the Midwest’s recognized basketball hotbed and Conseco Fieldhouse is an outstanding place to hold a tournament, attendance for the Big Ten Tournament has disappointed the league’s decision-makers. One person who has a major voice in the process told me privately you can tell the Big Ten Tournament’s attendance at Conseco Fieldhouse by Indiana’s performance whereas in Chicago you get a consistent turnout.
There’s truth in the numbers. Based on per-session average attendance, the United Center’s seven seasons ranked first through seven in the Big Ten Tournament’s 14 years. Only twice has Conseco Fieldhouse averaged more than 18,000 people per session and at no time since 2006 (when Iowa beat Ohio State to win the Big Ten Tournament title).
Granted, the United Center seats around 3,000 more people. But there are two Big Ten schools in Indiana and only one seems to have a major impact on tournament attendance. In 2009, when Purdue won the championship at Conseco Fieldhouse, the average session attendance was only 13,620, the lowest in league history. The likely reason? Indiana finished that season 1-17 in the league, was the 11th seed and bowed out in the opening round by 15 points.
The highest attendance per session in tournament history was in 2001. Iowa beat Indiana for the Big Ten title at the United Center with an average attendance of 21,954. The second-best was in 2005 when Illinois beat Wisconsin — again at the United Center — to win the tournament title.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told reporters last week the bids were not collective, meaning football could go to one city with or without one or both basketball tournaments. Based on the numbers alone, the United Center seems to be the favorite for men’s basketball.