Title game likely to stay in center of B1G

As the Big Ten prepares to officially welcome new members Rutgers and Maryland on July 1, the league is mobilizing to increase its brand in the valuable Northeast corridor.

The Big Ten will now regularly play games in Piscataway, N.J., and College Park, Md., and will likely be a bigger presence at neutral-site venues like MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and FedEx Field in Maryland.

But the Big Ten's signature football event, the championship game, likely isn't leaving the heart of the league.

The league hasn't started receiving bids for football title games in 2016 and beyond -- the 2014 and 2015 contests will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis -- but feedback gathered from top athletics officials and faculty representatives last fall suggests the event will remain in the center of the conference footprint.

"We believe it makes more sense perhaps to be more centrally located rather than moving that around to avoid a bad geographic matchup," Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia told ESPN.com.

Indianapolis has successfully hosted the first three title games and qualifies as a central location. Chicago's Soldier Field is another option, and centrally located cities such as Detroit and Cleveland also could be in the mix. The Big Ten considered bids from both Indianapolis and Chicago in 2011 before settling on Indy to host the championship game from 2012-15.

There's no firm timetable as to when formal discussions for future title games will begin, although there could be some when the Big Ten's joint group -- consisting of athletics directors, senior female administrators and faculty representatives -- meets again in February. The group met in the fall and concluded that keeping the game centrally located makes sense because only two schools participate and they aren't known until the week before the event. Those views were relayed to the league's presidents and chancellors, who met in Indianapolis after the championship game.

"Say you have an Indiana-Nebraska game at a New York- or a D.C.-type location, or if you had Purdue-Maryland and you had that in Minneapolis -- is that a good deal?" Traviolia said. "In talking through those things, we think football in the central region probably makes sense, and basketball, if we want to move around and be both in the East and the Midwest, basketball is probably the sport to do that."

The Big Ten men's and women's basketball tournaments have rotated between Chicago and Indianapolis -- and most recently Hoffman Estates, Ill., for the women's tournament -- throughout their existence. Both tournaments will take place in Indianapolis in March, before going to Chicago/Hoffman Estates in 2015 and back to Indy in 2016.

It's much likelier the basketball tournaments will take place in newer areas than the football championship.

"They're all-comer tournaments because you have all 14 teams that are going to be playing in them," Traviolia said. "Regardless of where you place it, you're going to have a team or two that basically will be a home team, whether it's Indiana and Purdue in Indianapolis or whether it's Maryland in D.C. or Rutgers and Penn State in New York."

Groups from both Indianapolis and Chicago have expressed interest in hosting football title games for 2016 and beyond. The Chicago group has enhanced its profile with the formation of a sports commission that helped promote last March's Big Ten basketball tournament, which set an attendance record at the United Center (124,543 fans during four days).

Sam Stark, executive director of Chicago's sports commission, told ESPN.com that the success of the Big Ten basketball tournament helped the city land other major college sports events like the Frozen Four in 2017 and the NCAA men's gymnastics championships in 2018. Although there's some concern about holding the football title game outdoors at Soldier Field, there's much more that goes into a selection.

"The game and the venue is probably the easy part," Stark said. "Most of the opportunity lies in the development and the enhancements of programs and the brand you can create in the community. Soldier Field, they could host any event. A lot of it comes down to community building."

Indianapolis has a lengthy track record of hosting major sporting events, which is the main reason why the Big Ten selected the city for its first five football championship games (commissioner Jim Delany praised the city for delivering "turn-key events"). Indiana Sports Corp, the city's sports commission, has had discussions with the Big Ten about future football title games after receiving positive feedback about the first three events, particularly the most recent one in December.

"We love working with the Big Ten, we love hosting these 12, soon-to-be 14, schools," said John Dedman, vice president of communications for Indiana Sports Corp. "They're still making some timing decisions on their end. We know that here, sometime in the near future, we'll be looking to secure [future games]."

While it's likely the basketball tournaments will continue to rotate -- both Indianapolis and Chicago want to be in the mix -- the football title game also could move "around our central region" after 2015, Traviolia said.

"There's nothing in stone," Traviolia said. "Based on how our discussions with different venues go and how our internal planning goes, it may be ripe for more advance discussions with our schools come February, or it may not."