Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said it's likely that there will be a conference championship game for football in 2011 when Nebraska starts competing as an official member. While schedules and divisions are two of the main things that need to be figured out before Nebraska's arrival, it's also necessary to decide where to host the Big Ten's title game.
With a footprint that includes eight NFL stadiums (I'm not counting the Eagles' stadium since it's too far out East), the Big Ten has plenty of options for the location of its title game. The real interesting debate that could narrow that list down quite a bit, however, is if the game should be strictly played indoors or outdoors every once in a while as well. That debate could produce a lengthy post of its own, so I will just glance over it.
The main concern with playing a game outdoors is that the weather will be bad. This debate was the force behind people not wanting the Super Bowl to be played in New Jersey, but ultimately that is where the 2014 game will be played. While I certainly understand the issues with playing outdoors (cold, snow, wind) and how it could potentially make for a pretty sloppy game, my view on an outdoor Big Ten title game is the same as an outdoor Super Bowl -- it shouldn't happen on a regular basis, but once every so often could be fun just as a change of pace.
I think it's pretty certain that most Big Ten title games will be indoors simply because the conference won't even play night games in November because of concerns with the cold. Sure, all teams in the conference play outdoors now and there are usually at least a couple bad weather games each season, but when a championship is on the line, you can see why people would prefer perfect conditions.
The other main thing that will likely keep most title games indoors is attendance. More people are going to be apt to go to the game if they know for sure that weather won't be an issue. I'm sure hardcore fans from the two schools involved would still be able to fill a place like Soldier Field, but every ticket isn't going to be sold the week before the game. Those who plan on going regardless of which teams play are going to be more likely to buy tickets if the game is indoors and the weather variable is eliminated.
My personal view on this is that I would rather have the title game played indoors more often than not. Every so often, though, I wouldn't mind an outdoor title game. As a result, I think the best solution is to rotate the title game between a few venues. Go to one indoor stadium for two years, go to another for two years and then finish off the rotation with an outdoor venue. That allows a place like Soldier Field to host the game; it would just only get to do it every so often.
Now that that's settled, let's move on to this week's Top Five, which examines the best venues for hosting a Big Ten title game. There is a bit of a homer alert with this Top Five, but it was so close between No. 1 and No. 2 that the deciding factor for me was my personal preference.
No. 1: Ford Field (Detroit, MI)
It shouldn't be too surprising that a Detroit blog selected a Detroit stadium as the top candidate to host the Big Ten title game. The thing is, Ford Field deserves to be at the top of anybody's list. Whether they are actually No. 1 probably depends on who you ask, but for me it's pretty simple...
Ford Field is a world-class venue that has hosted a Super Bowl, Final Four, Frozen Four and even WrestleMania, not to mention NFL games each season, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the MAC's conference title game and the MHSAA's championship games. Ford Field has a capacity of 65,000 and is situated in a pretty central location in Big Ten country. I will admit that it is a pretty short drive for Michigan and Michigan State, which would be an advantage if one of the local teams make it to the title game, but the one benefit of that is many Wolverine and Spartan fans may attend the game even if their team doesn't make it there. Football is huge in Michigan, and the fact that two hardcore Big Ten fan bases are close to Detroit is a huge plus.
I certainly can understand why people think Lucas Oil Stadium should be at the top of this list, but I think Indianapolis needs to spread the love. Indy already hosts the Big Ten tournament for basketball every year, and while there is some appeal to having both events in one city, I'd rather see Detroit get a chance to play host for football. As I mentioned earlier, the ideal solution would mean that this isn't an every year thing, so both Detroit and Indy would get to host the game at some point. I just want to see Ford Field play host first.
No. 2 - Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis, IN)
Ford Field and Lucas Oil Stadium are very similar, which is why my personal preference became the deciding factor. Although I do have Ford Field at No. 1, Lucas Oil Stadium is essentially a 1B type of option despite the fact that it is second on this list. Lucas Oil will play host to the 2012 Super Bowl and hosted this year's Final Four. We already know that it can handle big-time events and would be a very nice venue to watch a game at.
The other appealing factor that I sort of touched on is that Indianapolis is also home to the Big Ten's basketball tournament. Some people (like myself) could see that as a reason why Indy shouldn't host a football title game every year, but it's understandable why the Big Ten would want big events like this in the same city. Indy is a pretty central location for Big Ten teams, and many fans are already familiar with the city from traveling to the Big Ten basketball tournament.
No. 3 - Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)
The appeal of playing outdoors at Soldier Field is the fact that it would be something different every once in a while. I wouldn't want Soldier Field to play host too often simply because I have seen how sloppy Bears games can get when the weather goes to Hell in December, but the Big Ten's prototypical style of play would fit in very well with weather that produces a grind-it-out game predicated on defense. (Side note: I would only consider Soldier Field if they replace the grass with FieldTurf or hire a new groundskeeper, because the Bears are notorious for their awful field.)
The other appealing factor about playing in Chicago is that the city is already basically home to the Big Ten. The conference's headquarters is in nearby Park Ridge, IL, and it is truly about as central of a location as you can get. Indy would be very central for all of the teams in the eastern part of the Big Ten, but Chicago is much better for the teams in the western side of Big Ten country. Plus, Chicago is home to lots of Big Ten alumni, so that would be another appealing factor.
No. 4 - Vikings' new stadium if they ever get one (Minneapolis, MN)
The Metrodome has been thrown around as a potential venue for a Big Ten title game by a number of people, but I just can't see it. Aside from the fact that it is not a central location at all, the Metrodome is just not a good place to watch a college football game, as any fan of a team that had to play there against Minnesota found out. It will be tough to translate a college football atmosphere to any of these venues, but the Metrodome has already shown that it's just not a very good place to watch a game.
That said, I could see Minneapolis becoming a legitimate possibility to host a Big Ten title game if the Vikings ever get a new stadium. Right now it seems like that will never actually happen, but if the Vikings ever build this, then I would have no problem with a Big Ten title game making the trek to Minneapolis.
No. 5 - Cleveland Browns Stadium (Cleveland, OH)
The Browns' stadium holds over 73,000 people and wouldn't be too far of a drive for any of the Big Ten's eastern teams. Just as eastern teams would be far away from the Metrodome, I'm sure western teams wouldn't like having to go all the way to Cleveland, but it's not like it's as far east as Pittsburgh.
The main issue with playing at Cleveland Browns Stadium is that it's outdoors. I've already said that an outdoor game should happen every so often, but if you're going to play outdoors, why do it in Cleveland instead of Chicago? Chicago is much better in all aspects (in my opinion) except capacity, as Cleveland Browns Stadium is bigger. I put Cleveland on the list just because it is the second best outdoor option, but as the list shows, it's about the fifth-most desirable option overall.
Lambeau Field - it would be cool to play on the Frozen Tundra, but it's not like Green Bay would be big on tourism
Heinz Field - it wouldn't be too far for the eastern teams, but the western teams would be pretty far away; also, too many games are played on this usually beat-up field as it is
Paul Brown Stadium - Cincinnati is technically in Big Ten country, but it is basically at the southern tip of the footprint
Agree or disagree with this week's Top Five? Have comments or a Top Five list of your own? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.