Saving the City Game

I was walking through the airport in Tampa this weekend and, despite college football barely being underway, I noticed the college basketball preview magazines are starting to hit the newsstands.

There was a time where college basketball ruled New York City. St. John’s has always been a part of things, but go back in the sport’s history, its national history, not just New York, and you’ll see teams like NYU and CCNY once were among the elite programs in the game. And inside the city, when those two schools got together, it would sell out Madison Square Garden. Until the last eight years or so, St. John’s was still a big-time player in the game.

Now look at the New York City college basketball landscape and what do you see? A barren wasteland.

As Steve Lavin does his part to try and get St. John’s back into everyone’s consciousness and contending in the Big East, however, the six other teams playing inside the five boroughs continue to plod along, hoping for that one big year to get them into the NCAA Tournament and onto the pages of the city newspapers. Columbia, Fordham, Manhattan, Wagner, St. Francis and LIU all struggle year in and year out to maintain any sort of identity. And while Fordham plays in a major conference (the Atlantic 10), the others are all seemingly content in their current smaller conferences – Manhattan in the MAAC, Wagner, St. Francis and LIU all in the Northeast Conference and Columbia, of course, (happily) in the Ivy League.

I had an idea, though, that it just might be time for, in a time where travel budgets for fans and schools welcome trimming and in a time where city pride remains strong.

It is time for a New York City College Basketball Championship.

Let’s get all seven city teams in the Garden for a three day tournament and crown an annual city champ. It would be done tournament style, with bragging rights going to the winner. What can possibly be bad about that?

As I thought more about the idea, the more it made sense. No hotels, no plane rides. Local games against local competition for everyone. Schedule filling contests with minimal expenses. And most importantly, a more visible recruiting tool to help all seven programs attempt to attract players. Think about it…each school would be able to guarantee recruits the chance to play in Madison Square Garden. If it is a choice between Fordham and another A-10 team, or Manhattan or another MAAC school, that could help lure a better player to play inside the city limits.

Is this a perfect plan? Of course not. But the only issues I see so far are scheduling issues (three NEC teams that already play each other might not want an extra contest against a conference foe, for example). Seven schools means one gets a bye in the first round each year, so automatically give it to the defending champ and settle that piece the easy way. Financially, all seven schools can split both the expenses and the gate with the Garden in some way that would make everyone happy. I’m guessing that part can easily be figured out. But even if the schools lose a little money along the way, the overriding gains in the big picture are worth the money.

Yeah, I’m OK with Wagner vs. Columbia in the championship game. It isn’t a marquee matchup right now, but if a tournament like this can be put together properly, any championship game would be a marquee matchup, regardless of who is playing.

Why? Because it would be putting the city back in the city game, where it belongs.

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