UPDATE (Feb. 9, 2021)– The Big Ten Conference officially announced the tournament will be held in Indianapolis, confirming our previous report.
INDIANAPOLIS– A source has confirmed to CBS4 that the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament will be moving to Indianapolis next month, echoing a report from Milwaukee that a Big Ten athletic director last week told his board of trustees that players from his school will be packing their bags for Indy and Lucas Oil Stadium and tournament play beginning March 10.
The Big Ten Women’s Tournament tips off at Bankers Life Fieldhouse March 9 with the NCAA Men’s Tournament beginning play at courts in Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette a week later.
“Hopefully the Big Ten Tournament will be confirmed very soon,” said Joel Reitz as he surveyed the empty tables just after a light lunch turnout inside O’Reilly’s Irish Bar and Restaurant just up the block from the Fieldhouse. “It’s nice to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Every seat at Reitz’ bar was filled with University of Michigan fans just before noon last March 12, the morning after the first two tournament games the night before, when COVID-19 called a foul and shut down the Big Ten tournament minutes before tipoff between the Wolverines and Rutgers University in an early-round game.
Next door at Coaches Tavern, owner Tom Sutton remembers the day the clock ran out on the 2020 college basketball championship season.
“That was definitely the day that the bottom fell out and the world as we knew it just ended and it just got darker and darker from there,” he said. “No St. Pat’s. No Pacers playoff games, none of the stuff we can expect revenue from.”
Both owners said they’ve managed to keep the lights turned on in anticipation of a brighter 2021 by depending on regular downtown customers to keep their staffs employed.
“It’s safe down here and people just need to come back downtown and support the local businesses,” said Sutton.
“Keep the faith and believe,” said Reitz. “You have to believe it will be better. Just believe in it and think fast and think on your toes.”
Last year, when both the men’s and women’s Big Ten tournaments were slated for Indianapolis, the expected economic payout was $15 million, though that figure may not apply to this year’s twin conference tournaments, assuming the Big Ten confirms its intentions, as the number of fans allowed to attend games has not yet been determined.
With an estimated $500 million-worth of advertising and three weeks of CBS network television time coast-to-coast riding on the March Madness tournament alone, Indianapolis is well positioned to present itself to the nation as a large convention, sporting event and visitor-friendly city that is emerging from the pandemic and opening its doors to tourists.
“That is the message: Indianapolis is back in business,” said Reitz. “There have been certain restrictions in place here for quite a while which I believe are for the better of Indianapolis and we come out the back end of it stronger and healthier than other cities and we can attract more business just like this.”
Last summer Mayor Joe Hogsett dedicated $7 million in CARES Act money earmarked for pandemic relief to the Indiana Convention Center for coronavirus mitigation efforts.
Since that time, Visit Indy has hosted in excess of 50,000 people attending more than 30 conventions and sporting competitions with, to the best knowledge of local health authorities, no coronavirus superspreader events as a result.
At corner of the bar at Coaches Tavern, a large decal sporting the mayor’s face reads, “Reserved for Mayor Joe Hogsett,” where at midday today there was plenty of elbow room at the foot rail as Sutton awaited confirmation that the Big Ten men were coming next month.
“It is a big rush of adrenaline to know that we’re going to get that and so we’re gonna have a huge month businesswise and our city’s gonna be in the showcase, the spotlight and so we can show the world how great Indianapolis is,” he said, “and hopefully conventions will look at us and go, ‘Okay, Indianapolis is okay to go back to,’ and we start seeing convention business come back which is huge for downtown, for the hotels, the restaurants, the bars and everything so that everyone sees how great Indianapolis is.”