CHICAGO -- The first Saturday of the 2012 college football season is highlighted by a blockbuster game taking place at a cavernous NFL stadium.
On the night of Sept. 1, Michigan and Alabama will take center stage in Arlington, Texas, at a shrine to all things big and bold, nicknamed "Jerryworld" after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. It will mark the latest in a series of national showcase games during the regular season that take place at neutral sites.
Last year, LSU and Oregon kicked off the season on the same field. Notable neutral-site games this fall include Miami-Notre Dame at Chicago's Soldier Field and Clemson-Auburn at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
The trend is clear, and many major-conference teams see the neutral-site games as a nice alternative to the home-and-home series that take longer and give up a precious home game.
Big Ten athletic directors are split on the neutral-site issue. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, who helped organize the Alabama game, said last month that the school has had preliminary talks about playing a neutral-site game at Sun Life Stadium near Miami.
Iowa opens the 2012 season against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, and Hawkeyes athletic director Gary Barta recently told the Des Moines Register that he is "wide open to the concept" of more neutral-site games.
Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips on Wednesday expressed interest in playing a game at New York's Yankee Stadium, and, with the Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership approaching, added, "We need to get out to California some." Northwestern moved its home game against Illinois to Wrigley Field in 2010, and the teams could play again at Wrigley or Soldier Field.
Illinois AD Mike Thomas also wants a bigger presence in Chicago and could schedule a game at Soldier Field as early as 2013, the Chicago Tribune reports. The Illini used to open the season against Missouri in St. Louis, but the series is on a hiatus.
The neutral-site surge isn't for everyone, though. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com last month that he's extremely reluctant to give up a home game for a neutral-site contest.
"I love Dave Brandon at Michigan and I applaud them," Smith said. "They're playing Alabama in Dallas, which I think is cool and unique. But if I can get eight home games, the economic impact we have here, I just can't pull it away. Because it's a home game. Now if an away game, like Indiana or somebody says, 'Hey, let's go to Maryland,' and it’s their home game, I'd do that in a minute.
"But taking one of my home games, I just can't do it. The economic impact in this community is just huge."
Michigan State AD Mark Hollis has been very proactive in scheduling top nonconference opponents (Boise State, Oregon, Alabama, Miami). But those games will take place on campus.
Hollis acknowledges scheduling trends elsewhere impact what Big Ten teams do, but his position is firm.
"I'd rather bring big games into Spartan Stadium," Hollis said. "We talked to Boise State about playing in Chicago, but we had no interest in that. We want to play them at home. I want Miami there, I want Alabama there, I want Oregon, so our fans can see them."