Sunday, June 5, 2011
Big Ten makes safe choice with Indy
By Adam Rittenberg
The bold move would have been Soldier Field in Chicago.
The safer move, and quite possibly the smarter one, was Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors ultimately played it safe, voting unanimously Sunday to have the football championship in Indianapolis from 2012-15. Coupled with the inaugural event Dec. 3 in Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium will host the first five Big Ten football title games. The men's tournament will be held in Indianapolis in 2014 and 2016, and at at the United Center in 2013 and 2015. The women's tournament will be held in Indianapolis in 2014 and 2016, and at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., in 2013 and 2015.
The Big Ten's rationale is pretty easy to understand. This is a new event, and to ensure it gets off the ground smoothly, Indianapolis and Lucas Oil made the most sense. Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged that the weather was a deciding factor, along with Indianapolis' integrated pitch and its impressive track record of hosting major events.
Delany said Indianapolis made the most sense for "game, fan and brand."
"In order to establish ourselves and build a foundation, it's a good idea to be indoors and see what we have," he said. "We wanted to be cautious and conservative, and get a great foundation for TV and fans."
The counterargument is that many Big Ten fans -- 56 percent in a recent poll -- wanted to play the game outdoors at Soldier Field. Big Ten football now is exclusively played outdoors and cold weather is an integral part of the league's football fabric.
I'm not a marketing expert, but I would be stunned if cold weather would have turned fans away from an outdoor title game.
On the flip side, the championship features two of the Big Ten's best teams, squads that will play big-time bowl games in good conditions. An indoor venue decreases injury risk and creates an environment similar to BCS bowls.
"The idea was that we could get consistency of planning for both teams if you knew the environment was going to be pretty consistent," Delany said. "Maybe we’re just getting ready to play bowl games."
It's hard to argue with Delany's last point. Big Ten teams can no longer use the layoff before bowl games as an excuse for poor performance. Playing the title game indoors also evens the playing field.
Soldier Field could be in the mix for title games in 2016 and beyond, but it'll be important to have a more integrated campaign like Indianapolis had. The Indianapolis group made a unified pitch at the Big Ten spring meetings, while the three Chicago venues -- Soldier Field, United Center, Sears Centre Arena -- presented independently.
Delany gave a very strong endorsement Sunday to the Indiana Sports Corporation and Indianapolis' collective approach to attracting and hosting major pro and amateur sporting events.
"On the Indianapolis side, they have developed a very integrated delivery system that benefited them in their presentation," Delany said. "I don’t think anybody who has ever worked with the Indianapolis community could come away anything other than exceptionally impressed.
"Indianapolis has a unique ability to deliver turnkey events in a quality way."
Delany called Chicago the nation's best sports town and said he would continue to talk with the city's park district in hopes of getting "that integrated approach."
Overall, I'm not surprised by the Big Ten's choice, and taking the safer route with a new event makes sense. I just hope the league doesn't close the door on having the title game at Soldier Field, which could have more upside if things go smoothly.
A few notes:
- Delany said the poor playing surface at Soldier Field wasn't a factor in the decision. Neither was the fact that Indianapolis had some flashier people making its presentation, including Gov. Mitch Daniels.
- The Big Ten's policy against playing prime-time games outside after Nov. 1 also didn't factor into the decision. If Soldier Field had been the pick, Delany anticipates an exception would have been made and the games would have been played at night.
- The title games from 2012-15 will be played in prime time and aired on Fox.
- The presidents and chancellors considered three-year and four-year agreements for the title game. They also considered models where the game site would rotate. "Are you going to settle into one place and build, (or) are you going to start alternating?" Delany said. "We felt we needed to get off to a stable start and launch from there."