Sat Jun 12 11:36am EDT
The addition of Nebraska on Friday brings the Big Ten's membership to an even dozen, which can mean only one thing: Bring on the Big Ten Championship Game. Commissioner Jim Delany said he "presume(s)" the conference will add a title game when the 'Huskers come aboard in 2011, leaving us to presume that a tricky divisional split is in the works, as well, whenever the merry-go-round of manifest destiny comes to a complete stop.
In the meantime, let the bidding begin. Indianapolis is already stumping to bring the Big Ten title game to Lucas Oil Stadium, home to a Final Four, an upcoming Super Bowl, a retractable roof and a faux-nostalgic facade that simultaneously elicits a brewery, a fifties-era Midwestern high school and a suburban Wal-Mart. (It also features spectacular views such as the one at right.) Detroit's Ford Field, the original innovator in the Starbucksification of American stadia, is also expected to make a strong push, as is Minneapolis, which has another selling point in its efforts to replace the aging Metrodome with a retractable-roof monstrosity of its own.
Obviously, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler – men of tundra, buckling concrete and, later, soggy, flesh-ripping Astroturf – would have never been comfortable leading a team into an arena with the atmosphere of a conference room; before them, Bernie Bierman and Bennie Oosterbaan couldn't have conceived of it. If the conference decides to go a little old school, the closest candidates to its rugged, cloud-of-dust roots are probably Chicago's Soldier Field and Cleveland Browns Stadium, which (in addition to natural grass, currently a foreign substance even in most Big Ten stadiums) can at least offer the prospect of an outdoor game in the freezing December cold. If the Super Bowl can do it, the Big Ten must do it. (In 21st Century marketing parlance, think of frostbite as a consumer-oriented brand strategy: It's authentic.)
Speaking of the 21st Century, the very existence of a Big Ten Championship Game marks the nation's most notoriously stodgy conference's final concession to it, after a decade-and-a-half of giving in piecemeal to the spread offense, the BCS, Rose Bowls featuring Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, the return of artificial turf, the centrality of television contracts and, finally, the necessity of expansion, the revolutionary brainchild of the SEC some 20 years ago. The conference schedule will extend into December, eliminating the prospect of a 51-day layoff before January bowl games. It will also serve as a made-for-TV ratings bonanza with frequent national championship ramifications. For all of those reasons and more, where the game is held is still of very little consequence next to the fact that it will be held at all: All of those futile visions conjured over a decade of message board chatter and idle offseason speculation, in a year-and-a-half, will actually be on the field.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.