Detroit could work way into hosting Big Ten hoops tourney

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Exterior photo of the construction of Little Caesars Arena.

Detroit – In the 20-year history of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament, three cities have played host  Indianapolis 10 times, Chicago nine times and Washington once, this past season. New York will make it four cities in 21 years in 2018, when it's at Madison Square Garden.

Now, how about Detroit?

"The NCAA understands this is a great market for college basketball and college sports in general," said Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment president and CEO. "Hopefully the Big Ten is watching, too."

The NCAA Tournament has held games in the region, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, and with the Final Four at Ford Field in 2009.

In 2018 and 2021, first- and second-round games will be held at Little Caesars Arena, which is opening this fall.

It might just be a matter of time before the Big Ten starts up some conversations, too.

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"I don't know if there's been yet," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, before adding emphatically, "but there will be!

"If you ask me, we should just have it here and the hell with all the other places."

Indianapolis and Chicago held the first 19 Big Ten tournaments. It extended to Washington this year and New York next year, as an attempt – perhaps in vain  to spread the conference's reach to the big media markets of the East Coast, following the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference.

The earliest Detroit could get the Big Ten tournament is 2023. It's back in Chicago in 2019 and 2021, and Indianapolis in 2020 and 2022.

Izzo said Detroit makes sense on a number of levels. For starters, the infrastructure. There are more than enough hotel rooms, restaurants and bars, and there's a convention center, if needed. There's also a major airport that's only a half-hour drive from Little Caesars Arena. Detroit is relatively centrally located, among the league's 14-school membership.

Most importantly, Izzo said, Detroit's downtown, specifically from Midtown to The District to Foxtown to Greektown, is walkable, much like Indianapolis. That makes for a great atmosphere.

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"That's the coolest thing I like about Indy," Izzo said. "You can count me up as one that's going to be promoting getting the Big Ten tournament here, because I think it fits what we want to do  and that's getting everyone in the same area, but have it within walking distance instead of driving distance, like some places.

"(Fans walking around all over town) is almost bigger and better than the games."

Detroit already plays host to the Horizon League tournament.

The Horizon League, of which Oakland and Detroit Mercy are members, held the men's tournament at Joe Louis Arena last year, and the men's and women's tournaments at JLA this year. The men's and women's tournaments return to Detroit next year at Little Caesars Arena. There's an opt-out after that third year, but most league officials are optimistic about staying in Detroit long term.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe said at first, Detroit was a tough sell to its league memberships.

It didn't take long for that to change.

"When it first got announced that the conference tournament was going to Detroit, most of the cities in our league were upset about it, because of the image and reputation that the city had," Kampe said. "After two years down here, they're raving about the city.

"Basketball did that. It changed the image in peoples' minds from four to six hours away from here. They're really looking forward to the new place."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984