New York State of Mind

Michael Heiman - Getty Images

The Big East is still working on a long-term extension for its basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden, even after Scott O'Neil's departure.

After adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh to it's ranks, the ACC's commissioner John Swofford expressed an interest in someday hosting his conference tournament at the World's Most Famous Arena -- Madison Square Garden. For the Big East, that suggestion was a slap in the face, the Manhattan arena had been part of the conference tradition for decades and every conference team has been annually afforded a trip to take the floor there in the first week of March for most of it's existence.

The ACC's northeast expansion, however, put that tradition in question, but the Big East rebuilt and last Spring, talks were underway to extend the conference's March grip on the arena for a decade beyond the current deal. Those talks reportedly will continue.

That, of course, was all while the MSG Sports organization was headed by Scott O'Neil, a superb marketer and Villanova alumnus.

About three weeks ago, however, O'Neil stepped down from that post at MSG. He cited no reason at the time, but speculators believed that James Dolan the major shareholder and Chairman of the company (along with Cablevision), was too difficult for him to work with. He had generated millions in additional revenue for the company that operated all of the sporting events held at MSG as well as the three professional teams calling it home (Knicks, Rangers and Liberty).

His presence at the arena was definitely a positive for the conference that hosted the Villanova men's basketball team. When he left, it created at least a small question of whether Madison Square Garden might flirt with other conferences -- perhaps the ACC.

The ACC puts it's conference tournament up for bid a few years in advance and they recently solicited bids from sites that wanted to host the 2016-2021 editions of the event. Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center submitted a bid to host, but according to ESPN, Madison Square Garden did not.

That makes it far more likely that the Big East will ultimately finalize their deal to play the conference tournament at MSG for the forseeable future. If the Big East signs a deal through 2026, as they seem to prefer, it probably would also prevent MSG from bidding on the next slate of ACC tournaments when those bids occur since the dates would overlap for at least a portion of the deal.

That doesn't mean the Arena won't be interested, however, but it would complicate the bidding process. The 2016-21 ACC tournament bidding process closed in August, while O'Neil was still running MSG Sports.

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