Video of the crowd from [9 March's] Northwestern-Rutgers game suggested America may have been in the throes of a months-long zombie attack.That comes with the addition of three teams from east of the Alleghenies (Penn State, solid in football, inadequate in basketball, some decent nonrevenue teams; Maryland, decayed in football, solid in basketball, some decent nonrevenue teams; Rutgers, let us draw the curtain of charity) to a conference redolent of factories and fields. Mr Schneider's characterization: "The list of embarrassments endured by Big Ten fans in the name of expanding the league's money stream is a long one."
Yet the move from the Midwest to Washington, D.C., is only the Big Ten Conference's most recent step on the path to becoming a national laughingstock. That trek will be complete next year when the conference, desperate to dip its straw in the East Coast's money milkshake, will be holding its tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden. The catch is, in order to make the schedule work, the Big Ten will have to move its conference tournament up a week to allow the Big East to run its tournament at the regular time.
That means the Big Ten Tournament will be running at the same time as the minor conferences and low mid-majors who typically only get one team into the NCAA Tournament. In order to push itself on an unwilling set of fans, one of the nation's great leagues is subjugating itself to all the other power conferences. No more distasteful exchange of money for services has taken place in New York since Eliot Spitzer resigned as the state's governor.
And moving the conference tournament from Indianapolis or Chicago (or the new barn in Milwaukee?) to the attic of Penn Station? Sad.
But now, at least in terms of basketball prestige, the Big Ten has been eclipsed by smaller leagues such as the Big East, which is basically made up of Catholic basketball-only schools that fell out of the major conferences' pockets while they rummaged for spare change. The 10-member Big East is going to send seven of its teams to the NCAA Tournament, the same number as the 14-member Big Ten. There are few off-nights in the Big East. (And will be even fewer when traditional power Georgetown gets back on its feet.)Those realignments, though? Put together a weak Lackawanna with a weaker Erie and you get a railroad the wags referred to as the Weary Lack-o-money. Take the undersized steel plants of Republic and the undersized steel plants of Youngstown and call the larger collection of undersized steel plants LTV Steel (playing off the sixties conglomerates craze, anyone remember that?) and you have to account for more distressed properties in bankruptcy court.
While traditional rivalries still exist in the Big Ten, the league has been watered down by its recent additions. And the move to New York could have negative effects for the conference as its teams move on to the NCAA Tournament. How are the league's teams going to fare in the Big Dance after sitting around for almost two weeks while the other major conferences are battling for tournament spots?
Everyone knows that college athletics is a business first and foremost, which is why so many conferences have realigned in recent years. But the Big Ten's current Dash for Cash is a shameful level of greed that even Gordon Gekko would consider excessive. Instead of showing up at Madison Square Garden next year with tournament tickets, fans may just as likely be brandishing restraining orders.
So yes, we're in the middle of March Madness and all looks well. Behind the scenes (and on the ledgers?) the ominous signs materialize.