Gene Smith: "I would be very open to...a bid to host the conference championship game in basketball."
Ohio State is almost 70 miles closer to Chicago and 250 miles closer to Indianapolis than they are to Washington, D.C., so you might think that Buckeye athletics director Gene Smith would be upset by today's announcement regarding the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament.
It turns out, however, that Smith understands why the league will be holding the tourney at the Verizon Center in 2017.
"We want to have a presence in the east," Smith said. "That’s really important."
That echoes what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told reporters at a press conference this afternoon, before he added, "I think these events will live in the east, as well as in the midwest. We're fortunate to have a fabulous array of venues in the midwest. There's some great ones on the east coast."
Because the expansion eastward tugs the geographic center of the league eastward as well, could Nationwide Arena be considered for one of the fabulous venues to which Delany was referring? Could Columbus, in other words, be the new Indianapolis?
"I would be very open to working with the [Greater Columbus Sports Commission] or something of that nature to put a bid in to host the conference championship game in basketball," said Smith.
However, he cautioned that he didn't think such a bid would be successful. Nationwide is considered more of a competitive advantage for Ohio State than, say, Bankers Life Fieldhouse is for Indiana or Purdue. Chicago is such a landing spot for Big Ten alumni, the United Center isn't believed to be as much of a home court advantage for Illinois or Northwestern as Nationwide Arena would be for the Scarlet and Gray.
Note, though, that Delany spoke of "these events." That would certainly seem to open the door to the league also moving its championship football game from Lucas Oil Stadium after 2015.
Regardless of his desire for the Big Ten to expand its footprint, don't count on Smith being quite as supportive of a move of the conference's football title game to East Rutherford or Baltimore. The reason he gave is unrelated to travel. "I’m a big proponent that it should be played indoors," he said.
Delany promised that we can "expect more in the coming months," so we could learn more about what the Big Ten's expansion entails soon.