It wasn't a surprise to me that the Big Ten selected downtown Omaha over the cornfields of BFE Sarpy County for the 2014 baseball tournament. When the idea of the Big Ten baseball tournament coming to Omaha was floated during the winter, I thought TD Ameritrade Park made much more sense than the Sarpy County's Trailer Park. That viewpoint wasn't shared by many, though I don't understand why. Does the Big Ten need 24,000 seats? No, but if Nebraska is in the tournament, the Big Ten needs more than the 6400 seats available out in BFE. Heck, even the smallest crowds for Nebraska/Creighton games in Omaha lately would not only fill every seat in the small minor-league ballpark, but wouldn't even fit in the standing room areas on the berms either. Bottom line: it's too small.
But critics point out that the Big Ten tournament hasn't drawn flies in Columbus. True, but Columbus isn't Omaha. Just because Columbus hasn't supported the Big Ten tournament doesn't mean that Omaha won't. And if Nebraska plays, which simple odds would indicate is more likely than not, fans will show up. Will they sell it out downtown? Probably not...but it should have some nice sized crowds. Will only 1000 people show up for a Northwestern versus Indiana game in the afternoon? Possibly. Will that be a bad crowd in a 24,000 seat stadium? Yes, but 1,000 in a 6,400 seat ballpark is also a weak crowd. If you are sizing the Big Ten tournament for that, play the games at Boys Town.
If you want to know what the Big Ten was thinking about their tournament, look no further than the 2013 venue: Target Field in Minneapolis. They wanted a big ballpark with amenities for fans. Martie Cordaro, president of the former Omaha Royals, missed that point, insisting that "we were of the opinion that a right-sized venue would help grow the tournament." He comes off like a car salesman who continues to try to sell you the car he wants you to buy long after you've told him you want something completely different.
The Big Ten wanted amenities for fans: hotels, bars, and restaurants nearby. They wanted to make the Big Ten tournament something big. That doesn't mesh with what BFE has to offer. They got that in Minneapolis, and they got it in downtown Omaha. Some defenders of the Sarpy County boondoggle point out that Pennant Place will eventually bring those amenities. Well, it depends on how you define "eventually." When it was announced, some real estate experts estimated that would take another five years to become reality.
Of course, before it'll become reality, someone else will have to move it forward. Seems the original developer of "Pennant Place" put it all up for sale earlier this year. Not small lots, either, for stores, but large lots of 60 and 145 acres. Will something happen out there? Probably. But it's going to take time...and it's certainly not going to be done for 2014. Somebody has to buy it and develop it.
Meanwhile, things are booming downtown. The new Zesto's is almost ready to open, and over 1000 hotel rooms are ready and waiting. So it became an easy choice for the Big Ten: the big stadium with the amenities or the too-small stadium with nothing around it (and not enough parking to boot).
And thus, the 2014 tournament comes downtown.