FiveThirtyEight

 

To someone who doesn’t follow men’s college hoops, a cursory glance at the location of the conference tournaments might suggest that New York City is the nexus of the basketball universe. Last week, Madison Square Garden played host to the Big Ten, a conference primarily made up of schools in the Midwest. The Big East is now playing its tournament on that same floor, as it always does. And across the river, the ACC is simultaneously playing its championship in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

But in reality, of course, NYC is a far cry from a college-basketball hub. Rather, this is a symptom of conference tournament locations that increasingly range from the dubious to the downright illogical.

To judge just how out-of-whack some of these tournament venues have gotten, we first computed the geographical center of each of the six major conferences, based on the locations of the member schools’ campuses. We then compared each conference’s geographical center with where its tournament is being played. The Big 12, for example, is playing its conference tournament in Kansas City, which is at least in the same state (Missouri) as its geographic center, near Gentryville, MO. The total distance between the two? Just under 200 miles as the crow flies. That’s the closest any of the six tournament sites is to its conference’s geographic center. And it’s a far cry from the nearly 700 miles that separated the tournament site of the Big Ten and the middle of where its teams, you know, actually are.

Below are the tournament sites, ranked by the smallest distance between them and their conference’s geographic center. As a bonus, we also computed suggested tournament sites for each conference based on raw distance — essentially, the closest city to the conference’s geographic center that either contains an NBA arena or has a population of at least 300,000 people.

Remind me … where does our conference play again?

Distance from the municipalities closest to the geographic centers of the top six men’s college basketball conferences to their 2018 conference tournament locations and to FiveThirtyEight’s suggested* locations

*Suggested tournament location is the closest city to the conference’s geographic center that either hosts an NBA team or has a population of at least 300,000.

Based on data from the NCAA and Simple Maps U.S. Cities database

In fairness, the Big Ten’s tournament isn’t always in New York. From 1998 through 2016, it was played in either Chicago — which is actually our suggested site — or Indianapolis, which is a reasonable 108 miles away from the conference’s center. It was only last year, when the tournament was held in Washington, D.C. — a whopping 533 miles away — that the Big Ten began branching out into seriously unnatural locales. After this year’s dalliance with the Big Apple (which meant the tournament took place a week earlier than usual so that MSG could also accommodate the Big East tourney), the Big Ten will be returning to its more familiar digs of Chicago and Indianapolis for the next few years.

Some of these aberrant tournament locations are also being driven by the changing shapes of the conferences themselves. Here are the schools in the conferences we’re looking at whose locations tug on the geographic centers the most:

Which schools warp their conference’s shape the most?

Biggest distances between campus locations and geographic center of schools’ respective conferences for top six men’s college basketball conferences

Based on data from the NCAA and Simple Maps U.S. Cities database

Surprisingly, the presence of a team from Nebraska (Creighton) in a conference whose name contains the word “East” is somehow not the strangest location for a school relative to its conference’s center. No, that honor belongs to the University of Miami, which is over 735 miles from the ACC’s geographic center in Reidsville, North Carolina. (Miami joined the ACC in 2004.) Almost as strange is West Virginia’s membership in the Big 12, which really stretches the conference’s eastern boundary — and of course, Creighton remains a downright odd choice for the Big East.

Because of late-comers like the Bluejays, the current Big East’s geographic center sits almost 500 miles away from its longtime conference-tournament site of Madison Square Garden. But New York used to be a much better fit with the original Big East, whose geographic center lay in Pardeesville, Pennsylvania — about 85 miles northwest of Philadelphia and a mere 105 miles away from New York City. When its teams were compressed into a much smaller region in the Northeast, there was a reason the old Big East tourney was the stuff of legends and why it made sense for MSG to play host to the proceedings.

These days, we’re treated instead to odd venues like the ACC tournament being held in Brooklyn (what?) instead of North Carolina and the SEC playing in St. Louis (where the only remotely close SEC team is Missouri). It’s just another reminder that in modern college sports’ conference roulette, money dominates any shreds of tradition, geography or common sense.

CORRECTION (March 7, 2018, 5:50 p.m.): A previous version of this article used incorrect coordinates for the location of Boston College. The maps, tables and text have been updated. The corrected coordinates changed the geographic center of the ACC to Reidsville, North Carolina, and the suggested conference tournament location to Raleigh, North Carolina.


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