Odd-court advantage: Finding an unusual venue for each B1G hoops team
Big Ten basketball teams are poised to play in some pretty unorthodox locations this season.
On Monday, Wisconsin announced that it will play a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader at Milwaukee’s American Family Field, home of the Brewers. You might still know it as Miller Park, as you’d expect of a venue hosting a team named the Brewers. Maybe the Badgers were waiting for the stadium to be declared safe for American families before scheduling a game there. But that’s neither here nor there.
The very same day — Nov. 11, which is Veteran’s Day — Michigan State may be going off the deep end.
On Tuesday, Jon Rothstein reported that the Spartans are negotiating with Gonzaga and the Department of Defense to play on an aircraft carrier. That would rekindle a brief fad from 2011 and 2012 when 5 games were played on carriers, including a matchup between Michigan State and North Carolina. After 2 of the 2012 games were cancelled due to court conditions, the concept sank.
Wisconsin and Michigan State shouldn’t have all the fun, though. In the spirit of the moment, Saturday Tradition is pairing each remaining B1G program with a fun venue for a game.
Some of them are realistic. Some… less so. But we promise all of them would be memorable.
Illinois: Huff Hall
The Fighting Illini’s home before Assembly Hall/State Farm Center still stands on campus. And as the home of Illinois’ wrestling and volleyball programs, it’s still capable of hosting a 1-off basketball game. If you think the Orange Krush is on top of opponents now, think of how wild things will get with everybody packed into a 4,000-seat gym.
Indiana: The Hoosier Gym
The actual gym portrayed as the home of fictional Hickory High in “Hoosiers” stands in Knightstown, Ind. And it can be rented for only $100 an hour! That’s a steal!
And since Hickory is known as the Huskers in the movie, clearly Nebraska needs to be the opponent for this game.
Iowa: Iowa 80 — World’s Largest Truck Stop
From the website:
Iowa 80 Truckstop features 8 restaurant choices, a convenience store, gift store, Super Truck Showroom, barber shop, chiropractor, dentist, movie theater, workout room, laundry facilities, gas islands, diesel fuel center, truck service center, Truckomat truck wash, Dogomat pet wash, CAT Scale, 24 private showers, trucking museum and more!
There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting will be officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.
That tells me there’s room for a basketball court. And the “Disneyland of truck stops” is just 45 minutes East of Iowa City.
Since it’s only fitting for the opponent to arrive on a bus, Western Illinois makes for an ideal opponent. The Leathernecks are just 90 minutes away.
Maryland: Camden Yards
Miller Par, er, American Family Field has the benefit of a retractable roof. Those can come in handy in a Milwaukee November. The same cannot be said of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
But Charm City is slightly more climate-friendly than Cream City. Baltimore’s average daily temperature on Nov. 11 is a high of 59 degrees. Play the game in the early afternoon and it should be just fine.
Baltimore has 1 of the finest ballparks in baseball, but it’s inhabited by a team no one in their right mind would pay to see. So let them go watch the Terps instead.
Michigan vs. Michigan State: Superior Dome
The state of Michigan has an entire Upper Peninsula that doesn’t get to host major sporting events. And that’s just not fair. So we’re sending the Wolverines and Spartans to the Yoopers.
The Superior Dome is the home of the Northern Michigan University football team. The Guinness Book of World Records declares it to be the world’s largest wooden dome. And with a capacity of 8,000 for football, presumably another thousand folks or so could be crammed in for a basketball game.
Tom Izzo is a UP native and a Northern Michigan graduate. It’s time for him to go back home for a game before he hangs it up.
Minnesota: Mall of America
There’s plenty of precedent for sporting events to be hosted at the Mall of America site in Bloomington. Metropolitan Stadium, the original home of the Twins and Vikings, stood there before the teams moved to the Metrodome. Famously, there’s still a seat marking the spot of Harmon Killebrew’s longest home run.
Shopping malls are dying off. And America’s biggest mall could use a free promotional boost. The Golden Gophers are already used to playing on a weird, elevated floor. So whatever the set up is at the Mall of America, they’ll still feel at home.
Nebraska: Ice Box
The Ice Box is already located on University property and hosts the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. Plenty of arenas are equipped to host both basketball and hockey, so laying down a floor should be relatively easy.
And with a capacity of 4,200, Nebraska basketball will actually have a chance to sell out a game.
Northwestern: Wrigley Field
Northwestern has already used Wrigley for football, so might as well make it a true multisport venue.
A basketball court would be far from the most unusual sporting surface ever laid down at the corner of Clark and Addison. In 1944, some 6,000 fans showed up to Wrigley for a ski jump competition.
Given the fickle nature of the winds around Wrigley Field, the Wildcats would be wise to play any opponent that relies heavily on 3-point shooting. Anything but a dunk is liable to blow off-target.
Ohio State: St. John Arena
We’re going back to the Illinois model here. There’s a cool, old arena on campus. Might as well use it for some type of throwback game.
St. John Arena is home of Ohio State’s wrestling program and the state high school girls’ basketball finals. The Buckeyes played there from 1956-98, including the 1960 national championship season. It was most recently used by men’s basketball during the 2008 NIT. Maybe it could be dusted off for a game against Cal, which Ohio State defeated for the 1960 title.
Penn State: The Palestra
Like Michigan State and aircraft careers, Penn State and The Palestra are meant to reunite.
The Nittany Lions faced Philadelphia native Fran McCaffery and Iowa at The Palestra in Jan. 2020 and played in front of a sellout crowd. This type of thing doesn’t happen at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State needs to play a Philly game every year, whether as the host or a visitor to one of the Big 5 schools.
Purdue: The moon
Purdue graduate Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon. The Boilermakers therefore need to be the first basketball team to play on the moon. Just think of the dunks.
Scheduled date: TBD.
Rutgers: Rucker Park
If you want to claim yourself as New York’s Big Ten team, go prove it on the court at Rucker Park. Manhattan or Fordham would make ideal hosts since they are both within 5 miles of Rucker. This event would be best as a 4-team doubleheader rather than just a single game.
Rutgers just needs to make sure to get an invite. And the way Steve Pikiell has the program going, that shouldn’t be a problem.