The ACC presented a threat from the south. The Big Ten presented a threat from the west. But the Big East has secured its place at Madison Square Garden – where it’s held its conference tournament since 1983 – for at least another 10 years.
The Big East and the Garden on Sunday announced an agreement to extend their contract to hold the tournament at the building through 2028. The two-year extension will keep it on the traditional dates leading up to Selection Sunday. It also removes an opt-out that the Garden had in the original deal that was signed through 2026.
Joel Fisher, Garden executive vice president for marquee events, called the new agreement “firm for the next 10 years,” but added that it could be revisited if the “landscape” of college basketball or the Big East changes.
“The Big East Tournament at MSG has long been synonymous with tradition, rivalries and heart-stopping moments, and we are grateful to Jim Dolan, Andy Lustgarten and Joel Fisher for the support of one of the most enduring alliances in the sports world,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said.
Ackerman said conversations with the Garden on the extension got serious after last season.
The Big Ten last season held its tournament at the Garden during the week before the Big East’s began. The ACC held its conference at Barclays Center the previous two years. Both had interest in putting their tournament in the Garden during the Big East’s traditional week and tried to accomplish that.
“We were honored they were both interested . . . There were no serious discussions that got close to that,” Fisher said.
Fisher said it is still possible that the Big Ten or the ACC could want to hold its tournament the week prior to the Big East’s, but there is no plan for that. He added that securing a facility for the four to five days needed to hold a conference tournament has complications and that the extension announced Sunday will allow the other conferences to pursue accommodations.
The format for the 10-team Big East Conference Tournament remains in place and will be played March 13-16, 2019, with a single session Wednesday night, four quarterfinals in two Thursday sessions, two semifinals Friday in a single session and the title game on Saturday.
A number of major conferences are playing or planning to play 20 conference games beginning this season, with an eye toward improving their members’ strength-of-schedule metrics to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Ackerman has said that if the Big East expands, it will add a single school, but she added Sunday “there is nothing cooking on that.”
The Big East already plays Big Ten competition in the Gavitt Games and has a new pact with the Big 12 that begins next season and will include 10 games each year for four years. Ackerman said the hope is that those games against major-conference opponents will accomplish the same metric boost as playing 20 conference games.
If the Big East were to expand by adding a single team, a minor format change to the conference tournament at the Garden might have to be considered.