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Big Ten to have MSG hockey-hoops doubleheader from 2016-2019

Penn State and Michigan will be the first on January 30, 2016.

Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

As part of the Big Ten's East Coast expansion, Madison Square Garden will host hockey and hoops doubleheaders in New York City over the next four seasons.

The conference announced Tuesday a significant partnership with the World's Most Famous Arena. It includes a branding presence inside and outside the arena along with the 2018 Big Ten men's basketball conference tournament.

"We are thrilled to establish this long-term partnership with Madison Square Garden, one of the most-revered brands and buildings in all of sports," Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany said in a released statement. "This pairing is a natural fit for us as we continue to extend our brand and live in two regions of the country. The Garden has been the site of countless iconic moments throughout history, and we look forward to showcasing some of the best basketball and hockey programs in the country through this partnership."

As previously reported, Michigan and Penn State will be the first two teams to play at Madison Square Garden. The Nittany Lions and Wolverines, both of whom have played hockey games at MSG in recent years, face off in hockey and hoops January 30, 2016.

The remaining doubleheader match-ups have not been decided though the Big Ten is looking at having a consistent late January-early February presence.

Although there are many reasons for the Big Ten to expand its East Coast presence after admitting Maryland and Rutgers, the doubleheaders have its share of pros and cons. Neither newly B1G school carries men's hockey. It's not catering to either.

For five of the six schools which sponsor the sport (all but Penn State), the regular season event is a flight away. From the sound of things it doesn't like hockey expansion in coming in the East either.

There are alumni in New York City - the Big Ten quotes 100,000 in the metropolitan area - which wouldn't have the chance to watch on a regular basis. In this case, the game seems more focused upon them, much more than having the Midwest take flight towards the East Coast. (Based on informal polling of my followers the "yes" votes are few and far between.) Getting people to travel flight-like distances in college hockey has been a struggle in general short of the Frozen Four.

Even if the idea is more hoops-oriented, selling out for a destination in another affects both.

Being the only Power 5 conference with hockey has advantages. Coupling winter sports together is unique, but comes strangely across in a sport where stability and tradition have a hold on a fandom used to doing its own thing. That isn't to say there is a right or wrong answer.

If treated to a point where one is just an add in, it's a detriment to the foundation the conference is building with hockey, however.

Before going down the "hockey is an afterthought" path, the two teams chosen have had success drawing for puck at Madison Square Garden. Michigan sold out its MSG hockey game in 2012. Granted, both played against "nearby" Cornell, something that won't happen over the next four seasons, however, combined with hoops fans and fans of the school it makes sense to open with both schools.

Michigan and Penn State are year 1. After that? Minnesota-Wisconsin in NYC is not the same as Soldier Field.

The idea to have a Big Ten version of Cornell's Frozen Apple fits in with the conference's philosophy of b1g events (pun intended). In a way, the Madison Square Garden Games feel like a continuation; a new regular season experience to schedule around which complement outdoor games.

For Big Ten hockey, the television promotion and exposure is much needed in a sport that at times struggles to catch the eye of the casual sports fan. People know the Big Ten. People know Madison Square Garden.

In theory this gives another chance to sell the game nationally, or outside the Midwest.

Yet  like outdoor games, ones which have been tentpoles of regular season match-ups in hockey. Hockey, like with basketball and the 2018 conference tournament, is selling itself short. With five of the six schools having played in at least one since 2013 (and Michigan and Michigan State seemingly playing one another in a new location every year) the point of diminishing returns has to be near. Moving outdoors or moving from a Midwest base to the bright lights of Broadway comes at a cost.

There can only be so many outdoor games involving the schools before the idea gets tiresome to those on TV and buying tickets.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --