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When does March Madness start in February?

When the Big Ten Conference sacrifices the integrity of play in search of more money for its coffers, that's when.

The Big Ten Tournament was held in Chicago or Indianapolis every year since its inception in 1998 until last year. That's when commissioner Jim Delany decided to play the tourney in Washington, D.C. That might have made Maryland fans happy, but sparse crowds showed up compared to the past.

Evidently, D.C. wasn't east enough for Delany and his pursuit of expanding the league's "footprint." This year's Big Ten Tournament will be at the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden in New York City. 

Because the Big East Conference has dibs on the Garden when the top leagues hold their tournaments, the Big Ten was forced to move its event up a week.

For the Big Ten, that meant jamming up the regular-season schedule. Two games might not sound like much, but don't tell that to the University of Illinois.

The Illini were forced to play their last four Big Ten games in eight days. These are college guys, not the NBA, who attend class and have other pressures the pros don't. The quality of play is going to suffer and it has. Many Big Ten teams seem to be running out of gas heading to the finish line.

That doesn't seem to matter if you want to get more fans signed up for the Big Ten Network on their cable or satellite packages, does it?

So March Madness begins in February for the Big Ten when the bottom four teams, including the Illini, start the tournament on Wednesday (4:30 p.m., BTN) in what promises to be a raucous atmosphere for the 500 or so fans at The Garden.

It's difficult to see many fans — even of Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State — following their teams to NYC. The Big Apple isn't the easiest place to drive to like, say, Chicago or Indy, let alone the exorbitant prices once you get there.

Thankfully, the Big Ten is returning to a Chicago-Indy rotation starting next year until at least 2022. After that, who knows what the sports world will look like. 

Winter Olympics: Men's hockey gold medal game (NBCSN, 9:30 p.m. Saturday): Hopefully, the NHL allows its players to go to Beijing in 2022 and doesn't suck all the drama out of this tournament again.

Spring training: Cubs vs. White Sox (WAOE, 2 p.m. Tuesday): Never too early to see green grass, sunshine and one of the South Side's rising young phenoms against Cubs' stars who were in a similar position not long ago.

Contact Jim Benson at


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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