With this year's record-obliterating attendance for the Big Ten Baseball Tournament in Omaha, many are asking when the Big Ten will return to Omaha. In multiple interviews today at TD Ameritrade Park during Nebraska's 6-1 victory over Michigan, commissioner Jim Delany gave a somewhat measured response. He, and the Big Ten, are clearly impressed with Omaha's turnout for the 2014 tournament.
Jim Delany to BTN on crowds at TD Ameritrade Park - "pretty impressive"— Andy Kendeigh (@AndyKendeigh7) May 24, 2014
How impressed? Delany doesn't tell you specifically, but you get a solid feel that this week may be convincing the Big Ten to change their thinking about the baseball tournament. I say "maybe", because deep down, I get the impression that Delany is thinking much more "big picture" than just baseball. On the BTN broadcast, announcer Eric Collins tried to get Delany to gush some more about Omaha, but Delany instead talked about Maryland and Rutgers.
Why? Because Delany's "east coast" push is a very real thing. In a postgame discussion with reporters, Delaney talked more about the Big Ten's moves out east, such as the 2017 basketball tournament in Washington, DC, making it clear that the Big Ten is trying to take advantage of the alumni on the east coast. Markets that he feels are underserved in terms of college athletics.
Jim Delany says Omaha has been impressive this week. http://t.co/iv0fFwNWiC— Husker Mike (@Husker_Mike) May 24, 2014
Make it clear: the Big Ten's expansion have less to do with Rutgers and Maryland specifically than they do with the markets they open up. It's not about Rutgers football. It's about bringing Michigan, Ohio State, and yes, Nebraska, to New York City. Take the Big Ten's decision to sign with the New York Yankees and the Pinstripe Bowl. It's not about making outdoor football in New York City in December a glamorous way to end the season; it's about bring the B1G names and turning New York City into a B1G city.
Back when the Big Ten announced the deal, it was noted that other Big Ten events would be held in Yankee Stadium as part of the deal. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that Delany would love to bring the baseball tournament to Gotham.
Except that Omaha made a strong case to change those plans:
Jim Delany says on @Husker_Baseball broadcast that B1G would consider an anchor site for baseball tourney after next year.— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) May 24, 2014
The 2015 Big Ten Baseball Tournament will be played in Minneapolis at Target Field. After that, it's open for negotiation. Would Omaha make a great anchor for the Big Ten? Absolutely. More people were in the stands for Friday night's elimination games (with Nebraska not playing) than for any game last year in Minneapolis. Probably more than for any day in past seasons as well. So why not play in the legendary home of the College World Series?
Sadly, even if the Big Ten is convinced to return to Omaha, Omaha may not be able to commit to being the anchor for the Big Ten's baseball tournament. Creighton play-by-play announcer John Bishop noted earlier today that the Bluejays want to host the Big East tournament in Omaha. The operators of TD Ameritrade Park and the CenturyLink Center have an existing contract to that gives Creighton the first rights to host events.
@HuskerExtraBC If Creighton hosts Big East (which I am told they get first option) then answer would be no.— John Bishop (@JohnBishop71) May 24, 2014
So if Creighton wants to host the Big East tournament in Omaha, and the Big East agrees, MECA is apparently obligated to go with the Big East. Nevermind that this year's Big Ten tournament has far outdrawn a previous Creighton conference tournament, since it's technically Creighton's home field, Creighton gets first crack.
And that might mean that Omaha can't agree to become a permanent host for the Big Ten Tournament. They could agree to be a regular spot in a rotation, unless the Big East were to agree to make Omaha their anchor site.
And that's what I suspect will happen as well. When it comes time to bid on where the Big Ten holds their baseball tournament, Omaha will certainly bid to hold it again. They might not be able to commit to a multi-year commitment. A rotation between Omaha, New York City, and perhaps Cleveland or Cincinnati might be in the offering.
Yes, New York City, Minneapolis, or Cleveland won't be able to touch the crowds in Omaha. They can offer a major league facility, though. This week also sends a strong message to the rest of the league and potential hosts to "up your game." If you don't want to make an attempt to put on a B1G event and get a B1G crowd, Omaha will be there to take your place.
No doubt in my mind that the Big Ten baseball tournament will be back in Omaha. Probably in 2016. It just may not become an annual thing.