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Attendance at conference championship games was great...except in D.C.

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Michigan-Wisconsin was a great game. But it didn’t draw that big a crowd in the nation’s capital.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe moving the Big Ten Basketball Tournament out of the Midwest wasn’t all that great an idea.

With over 5,000 empty seats at the Verizon Center in DC, the Big Ten’s championship game on Sunday between Michigan and Wisconsin was the smallest championship game crowd (12,902) among the P5 conferences. Leaving the friendly confines of arenas in Chicago and Indianapolis, the Big Ten took the risk of extending its foot print eastward with its men’s championship in Washington this year and at Madison Square Garden in 2018. The MSG deal also includes a series of hockey/hoops doubleheaders at least through 2019.

At the same time, the ACC left its Tobacco Road and its southern roots and set up championship shop in, of all places, Brooklyn. The Barclay’s Center, not even in southern Brooklyn, was the home for the ACC tournament. It’s title game between Duke and Notre Dame outdrew the B1G title tilt by over 5,000 with a crowd of 18,109 on hand.

The crowd at the Verizon Center was the smallest Big Ten title game crowd in at least six years. Last year’s game in Indianapolis between Michigan State and Purdue drew 16,429. That crowd was the smaller than any crowd since at least 2011-12.

Was travel to our nation’s capital a challenge? Didn’t people want to see this game? Was the Big Ten in a “down” year with too much parity?

When the games were in the Midwest the travel was certainly shorter. In 2016, Purdue was in its home state for the tournament. 2014 saw the bitter rivalry within Michigan. Columbus to Chicago is a flight of 1:10 or just over five hours by car. Columbus to Indianapolis is even closer.

Or was it just because the game was in D.C. and not west of the Appalachians?

And what about this year’s other P5 title games?

  • The SEC had Kentucky. Lexington is only three hours from Nashville. And it’s Kentucky.
  • The Pac 12 was in Las Vegas. Vegas! Vegas is a six hour drive from Tucson. And it’s Vegas!
  • The ACC had Duke, the team that started the season as No. 1. It had Notre Dame, so the “subway alumni” came out. It certainly wasn’t because it was Brooklyn.
  • The Big XII...... Uhh, Kansas City.... Uhhh, I got nothin’.

Was it the Big Ten’s parity, lack of star power, change in venue? Can’t tell now.

But we may find out a lot next March at The Garden.