Move Big Ten Football Championship to Chicago

Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com wrote this last month about the Big Ten Football Championship game:

Attendance has been a challenge in Indianapolis for the first two Big Ten football championships – last year’s event drew only 41,260 – and also for some recent basketball tournaments. Chicago could have an easier time there because there are so many more Big Ten fans in the area. A bigger obstacle for the city could be logistics, as Soldier Field isn’t nearly as centralized as Lucas Oil Stadium.

Anyone who watched the Big Ten football championship game in December likely noticed a pretty sparsely populated stadium. Two high profile programs like Nebraska and Wisconsin couldn’t fill the place, and it’s questionable whether other teams would be able to either. Perhaps teams like Indiana or Minnesota would draw more fans because it would be a more unique event to their fans. The reality though, is that Indianapolis was never the best choice for this game.

Indianapolis is a fine city1, but it doesn’t offer much flash. It might be local bias, but Chicago is on another level. It’s the third largest city in the United States (Indianapolis is 12th) and offers a great number of tourist attractions (even in the winter) as well as some really quality dining options. It’s likely that many Big Ten fans have been to Chicago at one point or another, so maybe that doesn’t offer the same uniqueness as Indianapolis, but it’s also likely that most Big Ten fans would rather pay a visit to Chicago anyway.

Rittenberg also makes the point that Chicago has a lot more Big Ten alums in and around the Chicago area, which would make it much easier for fans to make a last minute decision to go. Think about it, if a Penn St. alum lives in Chicago and Penn St. makes the title game, making a decision to go within a couple of days is a lot easier when a hotel and other expenses are not required.

Rittenberg also makes another common point, that Lucas Oil Field is a dome, and Soldier Field (the logical Chicago destination) is not. No Big Ten team plays their home games in a dome. Most Big Ten cities are in cold weather cities. The argument about it being cold in Chicago in December don’t seem to bother most people. Also the type of fans that would buy tickets for this game don’t seem like the kind of fans who would be bothered by this. Part of the problem is that the Big Ten is probably trying to turn this into the Super Bowl, and the type of sponsors and other big whigs they want to attract might not be keen on December Chicago weather. But Soldier Field has plenty of suites and it’s unlikely this would truly be an issue.

The other option would be to play the championship game in a specific school’s stadium. The argument against this is undoubtedly the fact that plans need to made in advance for logistics, travel, etc. But they could come up with some plan to make this work. What if they alternated which division hosted the game? That would drop the possibilities to just seven locations per season. Half the Big Ten schedule is usually in the books a month before the championship game, and by then at least a team or two is going to be eliminated, which could make it a bit easier. But in the long haul this probably isn’t really a viable solution. Although it would almost guarantee a sellout every time.

The next three championship games are locked into Indianapolis, but if attendance doesn’t improve the Big Ten will also be much more interested in moving to Chicago and trying something new. Of course, by 2016 the new college playoff system will be implemented and the whole world of college football could be different.

  1. At least it was last time I was there, which was almost two decades ago []