BS on Scene -- Big Ten Tournament in NYC
Welcome back to Boiled Sports’ nongoing* feature, We Were There. In this episode, we talk about the second time (if memory serves, which is often doesn’t) BS has been granted a press credential in the 11+ years we’ve been running the site. I, J Money, your intrepid reporter, figured it was worth applying for since the tournament was going to be at Madison Square Garden for the first time ever. MSG is the sports venue that I have attending the most games in by far, so I guess I’m lucky in that sense. I was a New York Rangers season ticketholder for much of my life – my dad and I went together from 1983 (yes, I’m old) to 1994 when I graduated from high school and got to see a Stanley Cup raised by my favorite team.
In addition, I’ve been to a smattering of Knicks games over the years and have also seen concerts and other college basketball games in the Garden. It’s a great venue and the people who pretend it’s overrated and not that great a place are kind of wrong, frankly. Let’s put that out there first. But let’s also acknowledge that anytime a building gets old (MSG is the oldest venue in the NHL and the NBA at 50 years of age) and hosts a lot of things – and is in a city like New York that has a rather high opinion of itself – the legend is going to take on a life of its own.
Now, for the old man aside, I’ll say this: MSG used to be even better in terms of sheer noise and environment. Around five years ago, the Garden underwent a billion dollar renovation. And, well, you gotta make that billion dolla bills up somewhere, so up went all ticket prices. I stopped getting Rangers tickets this season because it was just too obscene. Their run to the Final in 2014 was so expensive I didn’t go to any of the Final games – it wasn’t worth trying. Even the Knicks, as awful as they are and have been, are insanely expensive. These price hikes led to the majority of seats being owned by corporate types. Companies will buy tickets to entertain clients so you end up with lots of neckties at Ranger games. Not really a formula for a loud crowd. Sure, it can still get throaty, but trust me when I tell you it’s not the way it used to be when “real fans” could get into the building. The same thing has occurred at Yankee Stadium. /end rant.
So anyway, MSG is a cool venue in a truly great city. It does not, however, make a whole lot of sense as a Big Ten Tournament venue. But hey, it turned out to be a fun tournament that was helped by Penn State and Rutgers making decent “runs” and from the fact that NYC is home to many Big Ten alums, particularly of schools like PSU and Michigan. (As another aside, if this tourney had been held in Detroit and had the same semi-finals and final, it would have been perhaps even more raucous. Just keep that in mind when someone tells you that clearly NYC “worked” as a Big Ten venue.)
Anyway, back to the point of this post. I decided a couple of months ago to apply for a credential to cover the Big Ten Tournament for Boiled Sports. We’ve done this once before (unless I’m forgetting something) and that was in 2009 when B-dowd ventured into the Ross-Ade pressbox under the watchful eye of the ever-friendly Tom Schott. Boilerdowd even got a question in to Coach Danny Hope during the presser.
The Big Ten cred application said that if you were a team-specific internet media that the program would have to specifically validate that you cover their program. So once again, we were at the mercy of Purdue’s athletic department. So a big thanks to Chris Forman for waving his wand and granting us access. We did promise not to pee on the floor or anything.
Media had their own entrance at MSG which is much appreciated, as you bypass a lot of the nonsense at the main entrance. And as long as you’re wearing your credential, you get to go behind the velvet ropes and the security staff is very helpful and friendly. A well-placed thank you never hurts, so just like in any walk of life, go ahead and do that.
There was a large media workroom one flight up, which was at court level and just down the hall from the team locker rooms. The press conference stage and seating area is just off to the side of the media work room area and there are signs (and people) reminding you to be quiet since there are often live press conferences going on.
There was a second media workroom to the right of the first one that featured the food, coffee and snacks, as well as another large amount of workspaces. There were no assigned seats, though some of the regular media types clearly had their favorite spots. I felt like an interloper the entire time so I did my best to behave (contrary to BS’ reputation) and not interfere with anyone’s routines.
Real talk for a moment here…while this is a hobby we do on the side of our regular lives and careers, this is the career for just about everybody else in these rooms. These guys grind away, churning out content, racking their brains for ideas to make for an interesting story, etc. This is their office. So for me to be flippant or annoying in their place of work would be untoward and not something I would ever do. If we were to cover more games with this level of access, I could see working my way up to nabbing a quote or quick video convo with some of these guys but, again, they’re under deadline and have real jobs to do. We’re just a bunch of bozo fans. I guess what I’m saying is we know our place.
But back to the food.
In the media hospitality room, there were lunches and dinners put out each day of the tourney, along with snacks, drinks and coffee all throughout the day. The media workroom stayed open until 1 AM most days of the tourney and 11 PM on the last day (the title game ended before 7 PM). That gives you an idea of the life media types lead. Doing your work in a crowded room at a folding table on a folding chair while eating a less-than-healthy meal kept warm by sternos while not really making a ton of cash….well, it’s not glorious. Remember that the next time you tell a media type that they’re dumb on Twitter.
Despite that (or maybe because of it), the media guys that we know at BS are some of the most genuinely clever, witty and sneaky funny people we’ve been around.
In strolling around the media center during this tourney, I also was able to say hello (as though we were old friends) to Doug Gottleib, Jeff Goodman and Alex Roux of BTN. I got the chance to actually say hello to Aneesh’s future co-star in a hit buddy cop movie, Zach Osterman of the IU Star. Err, sorry, the Indy Star. Here’s a shot of Zach “working” in the media room. (He’s listening to the BS podcast, no doubt.)
I also got to meet Mike DeFabo, who has been doing a great job covering Purdue basketball this year. If you get a chance, check him out. He’s great in print, on twitter and he also has a podcast. (He’s never invited us on but to be fair, we did invite him onto ours but then never followed up. He made sure to mention this to me when we met.)
Speaking of Alex Roux of BTN, he did a quick interview with friend of the site Tyler Trent and you should really check it out if you get the chance.
Selfishly, we were excited to see a BS sticker on Tyler’s laptop in the video. The next thing I knew, Tyler and I were seated next to each other for the BTT Final. In fact, it felt like suddenly BS had been promoted to adult status. For prior days, we were not assigned a seat, which meant we got to “take a seat in the Chase Bridges.” The Chase Bridges are a pretty neat viewpoint, honestly, but it’s also pretty far away from everything. Still, you get a TV at your seat and power outlets and really, I have no complaints about it.
But for the Final, there we were, slotted to sit near such luminaries as Brian Neubert, DeFabo, Nathan Baird, Tyler and Andrew Pogar. To my left was Het Parool, which is a Dutch publication. The gentleman there said he was doing a piece on Matt Haarms and asked me, “Is he good?” He also told me he had texted Rik Smits to ask if Haarms could play in the NBA and Smits said for sure. I could have told him that, though.
As you know, Purdue didn’t exactly show well in the BTT Final. We moved to the media center amid the cheering Michigan fans and falling confetti, with Tyler not only showing me the best way to navigate beneath the stands to the media center, but moving quicker than me with a crutch and a new hip. The Purdue press conference was first and Matt Painter, to his credit, was as thoughtful and forthcoming as you could want a coach to be. Painter always seems to respect the job the media have and is as thoughtful as he can be.
In the end, we at BS still enjoy 95% of our time being spent outside the inner circle – when you spend all your time throwing spitballs, it’s weird to get a job in the principal’s office. We’ve now done this twice in 11+ years, so it’s not exactly a regular thing.
In perhaps the coolest tidbit, though, we were invited to vote on the all-tournament team and the most outstanding player of the tournament.
Sadly, we were unable to get Tommy Luce on the team.
(*Nongoing features are ongoing features in our heads that we always talk about doing but seem to never follow through on. Examples include the Battle for Atlantis, various NCAA tourney games, etc.)