<
>

Midwest must push hard for CFP title game

There's a reason bowl committees love selecting Big Ten teams for their games. It's the same reason chants of O-H-I-O! filled the air at AT&T Stadium on the night of Jan. 12.

Big Ten fans travel en masse. Good luck convincing Pac-12 fans or ACC fans to cross a time zone or two, much less a state border, but the Big Ten faithful will migrate just about anywhere to see their teams play.

The travel track record helps make virtual road games a bit more hospitable for Big Ten teams. But there's no denying that playing meaningful games so far from home has contributed to the league's postseason struggles (this past one notwithstanding).

Bowl games aren't moving from warm-weather locations. The College Football Playoff semifinals aren't moving from the current bowl sites, at least not any time soon.

That leaves one significant game -- the most significant, as it turns out -- that could be played in the Big Ten footprint.

Cities have until May 27 to bid on the next round of playoff championship games -- to be played in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Colleague Brett McMurphy reported last week that at least 14 cities are considering bids and seven -- Atlanta; Charlotte; Jacksonville, Florida; South Florida; Minneapolis; San Antonio; and Santa Clara, California -- have decided to bid. The College Football Playoff will reveal the bids at the end of May and hopes to announce its selections around Oct. 15, CFP chief operating operator Michael Kelly said.

Minneapolis is the only Big Ten/cold-weather city confirming its bid for the title game in 2019 and 2020 (it hosts the Super Bowl in 2018). Minneapolis was the only Midwest city to bid on the first set of title games.

Sources told me Indianapolis is reviewing the CFP's request for proposal and could decide to place a bid, too. The New York/New Jersey group, now part of the Big Ten footprint, also is considering a bid. Perhaps another Big Ten city, like Detroit, will throw its hat in the ring.

"We like the concept of exposing college football to as many people in as many different parts of the country as we can," CFP executive director Bill Hancock told me recently, "so nothing's been ruled out."

Hear that, Midwest? You have a chance, and it's important to make the strongest push possible to bring college football's biggest showcase to an area that, pardon the pun, typically gets left out in the cold.

The next two title games will occur in Arizona (Glendale) and Florida (Tampa). Besides Minneapolis, the other confirmed candidate cities are in ACC/SEC territory or Big 12 territory. California surely will be an option, whether it's the Rose Bowl (my preferred destination) or the Levi's Stadium group in Santa Clara.

There's a chance none of the first six playoff title games takes place in the Midwest. At that point, you would have to wonder if it would ever happen. Big Ten fans would continue to travel to support their teams but would never enjoy the home advantage teams from other conferences experience if they reached the championship in the right year.

That's why these bids are so significant.

What are the factors/challenges in bringing the game to Big Ten territory?

Weather: The possibility of heavy snow and frigid temperatures can't be denied, especially the impact on travel. Hancock acknowledges the risk but said the weather factor is often overstated, noting that chilly conditions in North Texas during title game week didn't hinder this year's event. Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit all have indoor stadiums with capacities that meet the playoff's criteria, so weather wouldn't impact the game itself. New York successfully held a Super Bowl outside.

Accessibility: Hancock thinks "fans will go anywhere to see this event." But a location must have plenty of flights from around the country and available hotel rooms, ideally in a concentrated area. The criteria wouldn't seem to limit cities like Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit, which have downtown stadiums and surrounding hotels.

Previous hosting: This is what could set certain Big Ten cities apart. "The ability of a city to marshal all the resources necessary to host an event like this is very important," Hancock said. Indianapolis has built a great reputation for hosting major events, and Minneapolis recently has raised its profile with the new Vikings Stadium, winning the 2018 Super Bowl bid. Indianapolis was a finalist for the 2018 Super Bowl and last hosted the game in 2012. Hancock links the CFP title game closer with the NCAA basketball Final Four than any other event, including the Super Bowl. Next month, Indianapolis will host its seventh Final Four, tied with New York for second most behind Kansas City. Minneapolis has hosted three Final Fours and will host again in 2019. Detroit hosted in 2009.

A national event: Hancock doesn't envision a site rotation for the title game but said, "Sharing the event with different parts of the country will be a factor." He added that the next set of sites will bring the playoff halfway through its 12-year contract. This will typically be a warm-weather event -- just look at the list of candidate cities -- but there's an openness to diversifying the list as the event evolves.

"From our conversations so far, people in cold-weather cities as well as warm-weather cities are very excited about the possibility of playing host to one of these games," Hancock said. "Where these games are going is a big deal."

Here's hoping Minneapolis, Indianapolis and other other groups put their best foot forward and finally bring a nationally significant football game to the Midwest.

Big Ten fans deserve it.