BLOOMINGTON — For now, the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament is scheduled for March 10-14 at the United Center in Chicago.
But when asked about the status of the tournament in a Big Ten Network interview Sunday, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was non-committal.
“We’re in the process of making decisions,” Warren said. “We want to make sure that, one, we keep our student-athletes healthy and safe and do all the right things, but also afford them the opportunity to play, to win, and to get ready for the NCAA Tournament. So we’ll be working through those issues.”
At issue is a 2021 NCAA Tournament health-and-safety protocol requiring all Tier 1 participants (student-athletes, coaches, and essential staff) to record seven straight days of negative COVID-19 tests before entering a controlled environment at hotels in Indianapolis. That could put the status of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament and other tournaments that take place during the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy. Schools may not want to risk putting their teams in a position to have a team-wide outbreak the week leading up to March Madness.
Last year, the Big Ten tournament played just two games in Indianapolis before the rest of the event was canceled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota beat Northwestern, while Indiana beat Nebraska.
The relevance of conference tournaments has been debated in recent years. The NCAA Tournament rewards automatic bids for winners of conference tournaments, but sometimes those tournament champions can serve as bid stealers if an unexpected team gets hot and pulls off an upset. Some in college basketball circles have advocated for those bids to be awarded to conference regular-season champions to reward a full body of work.
The flip side is the drama conference tournaments can create if a team gets on a roll or giving teams on the bubble a chance for a last statement win to boost their tournament resume.
Conference tournaments have always been money-makers for the Power Five, but with limited or no attendance likely due to the pandemic, the chance to produce significant revenue dramatically decreases.
Warren will likely weigh those factors when a decision is made, which could come by the end of the month.
One of the reasons for the strength of Big Ten men’s basketball again in the 2020-21 season was the return of several players who could have declared for the NBA draft.
Not surprisingly, several of those players showed up on the Wooden Award midseason Top 25 list last week, an award given to the best college basketball player in the country.
Of the 25 players, six were from the Big Ten, including Iowa forward and national player of the year favorite Luka Garza, Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, Rutgers guard Ron Harper Jr., and Minnesota guard Marcus Carr.
Jackson-Davis was named Big Ten co-player of the week Monday after posting three straight doubles-doubles and averaging 20 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and two blocks in games against Maryland, Wisconsin and Nebraska.