We begin the reporting for this story with a premise: The Big Ten tournament title game is an afterthought. Or more accurately, a before-thought.
It's the amuse bouche before a 12-course meal, the mixed greens stalling the delivery of your porterhouse.
It has no influence on NCAA tournament seeding, and those watching at home are screaming at the TV: "Just give us the brackets!"
And then, in the course of reporting the story, you get almost zero support for that theory …
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany: "I don't feel that (it lacks importance). What the data would show is that as people get ready for Selection Sunday, it's a different kind of program. If we were going against the show, that would be madness — early March Madness. But leading into the show, we view it as a good thing, and I think CBS views it as a good thing."
Roger that. The 2011 championship game (Ohio State 71, Penn State 60) drew 3.7 million viewers. Last year's game (Michigan State 68, Ohio State 64) hit the same mark. The last two Big East championship games (Connecticut-Louisville and Louisville-Cincinnati), played Saturday night on ESPN, drew 2.2 million in 2011 and 3.3 million last year.
CBS analyst Clark Kellogg, who will call Sunday's final at the United Center with Jim Nantz and Steve Kerr: "Perception is not always reality. There are pockets of folks more interested in the brackets. But because of the quality of the Big Ten and the magnitude of the league, that adds more juice to what is taking place."
Delany: "What we like about CBS is that it's a national over-the-air network, we've been in business with them since the early '90s and it's a national window with their best (on-air) talent. We give them a great lead-in to the show, and it's good for us. Most (leagues) stop playing a couple hours earlier or the previous night. So with very little competition, that allows us to aggregate the biggest audience. It gives the championship game a profile."
Ohio State coach Thad Matta, whose Buckeyes have reached the final four straight years (and six of the last seven): "I've never sensed (a lack of interest). Think about it, it's always a great game and the people are into it. And as a coach, when you've played three or four games in three or four days, you're just trying to get through it."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose Spartans took home the top prize last year in Indianapolis: "I didn't notice (a loss of intensity) in any of the players. Maybe it's that way with the fans, but I sure didn't notice it. It's a significant timeframe because it's right before everything happens. Would I prefer it to be earlier? Probably, but at the same time I think viewership-wise, we're probably getting the best bang for our buck because everybody is into what happens an hour later. And last year, I think we went from a 2 seed to a 1 seed because of the tournament."
CBSSports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm agreed that the Spartans moved up a line with their tourney triumph. And this year? Will the game influence the seedings?
Palm: "It depends on what happens and what happens elsewhere. If Michigan is playing for the title, they might have a chance for a 1 seed. There have been years where it hasn't really mattered. If the committee feels the need to have a contingency bracket in place, they will have both ready. If Purdue is suddenly playing for the title, there will be a contingency for that."
Delany: "It's not done by hand anymore, so they can have two or three brackets depending on the outcome. They just push a computer button. They're not wracking their brains on a particular result at 4 o'clock. It's one data point — an important data point because we know that what happens in real time can have an effect on the central nervous system."
There is one piece of evidence that suggests fans are so not into the result of the game.
Kevin Noon, the managing editor of Ohio State's Rivals.com site, via Twitter: "Our B1G Championship Game story (provided Ohio State is in the game) gets less reads than a bad non-con(ference) gamer does."
Delany: "We could finish (the tournament) Friday or Saturday if we wanted to, I guess. But we think overall it's a benefit. Even when somebody says the result might not get in … the reality is, sometimes not getting the result in is a benefit (to the losing team). Wouldn't you like sometime to play 17 holes? What if you make a triple bogey on 18 and don't break 85?"