The Big Ten championship game is headed to Naptown for the foreseeable future. Bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett break down the league's decision to play its signature event in Indianapolis from 2011-15.
Adam Rittenberg: I know you're behind this, Bennett. You wanted the shorter drive up I-65 to Indianapolis every December. One day on the blog and you're already making demands. I see how you roll.
Seriously, it's notable that the Big Ten has committed to Indy for the first five years of its new signature event. The league had two good options in Lucas Oil Stadium and Soldier Field, and ultimately made the safer and possibly smarter choice with Indy. Lucas Oil is a first-rate facility and won't provide the logistical headaches of an outdoor venue.
What was your initial take on the Big Ten's announcement?
Brian Bennett: That's right, Adam. Jim Delany is already throwing flowers at my feet to make my transition as smooth as possible. Smart move.
Getting back to reality, my reaction to the league choosing Indy was this: It's perfectly understandable, totally defensible on every level and yet just a bit ... uninspiring. That's no knock on Indianapolis -- anyone who's attended a Final Four or another big event there knows how well that city pulls those things off and how convenient everything is downtown for the fan experience. I certainly can't tell fans they should sit outside instead of indoors when I'll be snugly nestled in a warm press box regardless.
Still, as someone who until this point has viewed the league from afar, I've always associated the Big Ten with rugged football played outdoors, not on turf in a dome. I think of Chicago as the center of the Big Ten spoke, not Indianapolis. I see Chicago like the Big East sees New York for its basketball tournament: the league mecca.
But I'm the new guy here. What do you think?
Rittenberg: Brian, I totally agree about Chicago, and I'm not just saying that because I live here. Chicago is the epicenter of Big Ten interest, as almost every league member, including Nebraska, boasts a significant base of fans/alums.
It comes down to whether the Big Ten wants the championship game to be a true reflection of its brand or a mostly stress-free tune-up for bigger and better things. Cold weather is an integral part of Big Ten football, plain and simple. But if you want the title game to simulate what teams will face in BCS bowls and in the national title game, Indianapolis makes more sense because they'll never play a national championship at a cold-weather venue. And, as you write, Indianapolis has the track record of being able to host successful major events.
I guess I was a little surprised that Delany mentioned "brand" as one of the elements where the Big Ten benefits by going to Indy. As you write, the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden is a tremendous brand. It should never move from MSG. And while playing outside is a different deal, a championship at Soldier Field could have provided a tremendous branding opportunity for the Big Ten.
As Delany said, this was a conservative move for a new event. It makes sense.
What do you think happens down the road? Do you think Soldier Field will ever host this event? What about other venues like Cleveland Browns Stadium and Ford Field?
Bennett: I got the sense from Delany's comments on Sunday that he wants Chicago eventually to be the home of the Big Ten title game, but that the city has some questions to answer first.
You and I were there at the Palmer House when both Indianapolis and Chicago made their pitches to the league, and Indy brought Gov. Mitch Daniels, Colts president Bill Polian and Clark Kellogg as part of its contingent. Chicago didn't break out any heavy hitters. While Delany said that wouldn't necessarily have made a difference, Chicago clearly didn't have the all-out, integrated effort that Indianapolis brought. And Soldier Field's choppy turf may have to be addressed in the future.
Ultimately, I think Chicago will get a crack at it somewhere down the road, even if it's part of a rotation. Moving around the title game may have hurt the ACC, but the Big Ten will get a huge crowd no matter where it's located. I don't see Cleveland or Detroit or even Minneapolis or Green Bay getting the game anytime soon; Delany has made it pretty clear that Indy and Chicago are the two horses in this race.
Hey, maybe by 2016, global warming will ensure that Chicago is balmy in the first week of December. If not, do you think Indianapolis can become the Big Ten's version of Atlanta for the SEC title game? And won't a prime-time Big Ten championship game be super awesome (technical term) regardless of the site?
Rittenberg: Hey, I wouldn't complain about a balmy December around here. Or a balmy May, for that matter.
Indianapolis has an opportunity to make it very difficult for the Big Ten title game to leave its city limits. I have little doubt this will be an extremely successful event, on par with the SEC championship game, especially if there are national-title implications. Having the game in prime time is a must, given the growing popularity of prime-time college football in the past five years. If Indianapolis can successfully run the event and enhance it during the five-year span, it will be tough for the Big Ten to consider a move. This can truly be a main event in Indy, while I'm not sure Chicago can offer the same type of top billing.
Still, I'd be surprised if this event remains in one city for, say, 10 years. Chicago seems like the next option after Indianapolis, but the Soldier Field folks should take a cue from the Indiana Sports Corporation in how to present a unified bid for an event like this. Indianapolis' experience in hosting national sporting events certainly came to light during this process. But I agree with you about Delany: A part of him wants this event in Chicago. I even think he'll be proactive in working with the city's parks department and the Soldier Field folks to present a better bid the next time around.
I also would like to see the Big Ten consider seriously other venues after 2015, particularly Cleveland and Detroit. If those groups show that they have what it takes to have the title game, they should be in the mix.
OK, Bennett, you get the last word. What are the biggest keys to long-term success for the Big Ten championship game?
Bennett: Wow, I get a virtual home game until 2015 and the last word in this debate on my first day. It's probably all downhill from here.
I think the formula for success is pretty simple: Good games. We know Indianapolis is going to put on a first-class event and that the fans are going to eat it up. As in any sporting championship, the long-term reputation depends on memorable moments, whether that's a huge upset or two or some down-to-the-wire thrillers. The Big Ten would also like to see its marquee programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska make the game as much as possible (and bring their considerable fan bases with them).
The bottom line is you could put this thing in Gary, Ind., or Spokane, Wash., and the odds are it will be a smashing success.