Tuesday, December 6, 2011
First Big Ten title game was a good start
By Brian Bennett
My favorite moment from Big Ten championship weekend happened Saturday afternoon in a hotel elevator.
I got on board with six fans, all of whom were wearing red. But not Wisconsin red. Half of them had on Ohio State gear, while the others wore Nebraska shirts. As the elevator doors closed, they all looked at each other with a bit of confusion. Finally, one guy said, "Yep. I bought my tickets in September."
The great thing about the first title game in league history, though, was that you didn't have to be a fan of one of the participating teams to enjoy it.
Wisconsin beat Michigan State 42-39 in a thrilling, back-and-forth game. It was easily the best of the games on championship weekend, and with the outcome still in doubt while the other games had ended, the Big Ten likely drew many casual football fans to tune in. The Fox broadcast reportedly got a 2.2 rating, which translates to over seven million viewers. By contrast, the Big 12 showdown between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma airing at the same time attracted a little more than 5.7 million viewers.
One of the main goals of instituting a championship game was to give the league more exposure. The Big Ten used to shut down and go away by Thanksgiving. Millions of people got to see Big Ten football in primetime last weekend, and those who thought of the league as slow and boring must have been surprised by the exciting product on the field.
The conference couldn't have asked for a better showcase for its product, and Indianapolis proved to be a good host. Lucas Oil Stadium is a terrific venue, and being indoors with no weather concerns likely helped both teams' offenses put on the show that they did. It's questionable whether we would have gotten a 42-39 game at Chicago's Soldier Field. The weather in Chicago at kickoff was in the low 40s, but rain was expected and the Soldier Field turf is notoriously bad.
Meanwhile, the temperatures in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon and evening were unseasonably warm, allowing fans to comfortably walk around downtown. Despite fears of a low turnout, the crowd was announced at more than 61,000, and the stadium was mostly full except for a few pockets of empty seats.
There's still room for improvement for the title game. The Big Ten needs to have a national championship contender in the game to create a true national buzz and make this event seem as important as the SEC championship tilt. A Friday night awards gala featured several big names like Archie Griffin and Dick Butkus but wasn't highly publicized or well attended. And let's face it: Having one of the league's marquee brands, like Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska, involved in this game would likely increase ticket demand and interest level.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on the game, especially from those of you who went to Indianapolis for the game. How was your experience? What things could the Big Ten do better to improve that experience? Is Indy the right spot for this game, or should the league give Chicago a try? Will you go again?
Send your takes in to this link and we'll run some of your responses later in the week.