Big Ten should play title game outdoors
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced Tuesday that only two cities are in the running to host the league’s annual football championship game – Indianapolis and Chicago. Indy will stage the inaugural game this December. Then it’s open for bid.
“Those are the two cities we’re talking to right now,” Delany told ESPN.com at the annual league meetings. “We are where we’re going to be. That’s who we’ve spoken with so far.”
As for any others in the region – such as Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Bettendorf, Kalamazoo, Steubenville, Thief River Falls, Sheboygan, Cheboygan …
“We would send the signal,” Delany said, “but, for now, these are the two cities we’ve sent signals to.”
So it’s Indy and Chicago. And with all due respect to the spicy shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s, the cold beers of the Slippery Noodle Inn and my pal Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Big Ten ought to take one look at Indianapolis and say: Enjoy the basketball tournament; the football game is headed to Soldier Field.
There is only one good reason to play the game in Indianapolis, and that’s to play indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium, which would provide a controlled, sterile, temperate environment that … wait, we’re talking about the Big Ten, aren’t we?
Controlled, sterile and temperate is the most un-Big-Ten-like setting imaginable. Didn’t Minnesota prove that?
You don’t control the weather in the Big Ten. You control the football in the teeth of the weather, which a fine December date on the shores of Lake Michigan ought to supply.
The best thing that can happen to the Big Ten championship game is it snows. Every single year. It would be the most distinctively Big Ten backdrop possible, a full-on embrace of the league’s culture. Its ambiance, if you will.
Let those Southern leagues cling to their roofs. Let them pretend that football weather can’t include snow or sleet or a little bit of cold. Let them play in their dull domes.
“If you’re going to fight in the North Atlantic, you have to train in the North Atlantic,” Woody Hayes once declared. It remains as good a rallying call as any for the league because Woody said it with dignity and conviction and not a hint of embarrassment. Man up, he was saying.
All weather is football weather. The elements are part of the game, and Big Ten teams are built to win on those tough sledding days at Camp Randall or when wind whips across the Red Cedar in East Lansing or one of those dark, loud nights in Iowa City. You don’t sail your way to a Big Ten championship, you survive the prolonged engagement, right there in the North Atlantic.
So now teams battle-tested against multiple meteorological challenges will determine a champion under so-called “perfect” conditions?
Weather is how you define it. With football, the absence of weather is weather. A clean field, no wind and a dry football is a distinct advantage to some clubs. The way the game is played changes. Same as if it sleets.
Besides, some of the greatest games ever have seen snowflakes dance in the air, a cinematographic treasure. This is just one way the Big Ten can differentiate itself on the crowded conference championship weekend.
Outdoors says the league is proud of what it is – a conference built on Woody and Bo, Butkus and Bubba and generations of players and fans who grew up behind auto factories and on family farms and in towns that never make those “cool cities” lists.
And they’re long past tired of apologizing for it.
Perception-wise Big Ten football has taken a beating in recent years. Too much of a beating, really. These are good and sometimes great teams. Their bowl records are not always indicative of the quality of play.
The best thing the league has going for it is a deep pride in its programs and universities. There is a way of life sensibility that surrounds football here. The hoopla. The pageantry. The tradition. The historic stadiums and memorable experiences of Saturdays in the Midwest.
Holding it up for all that it is worth is better than trying to go safe and vanilla and be like everyone else.
Staging your game in the region’s biggest and best city (no offense, but I’ve lived in Chicago, Indianapolis and now outside Detroit), in a famed stadium amidst distinctive surroundings is a point of purpose.
If it gets a little nasty, well, isn’t that what life here is about?
In a perfect world, the game should be held on the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field. Green Bay, however, lacks the infrastructure, centralized convenience and hotel space to handle the event like Chicago can.
So Soldier Field will more than suffice. They’ve merely been playing football there since 1924, outdoors every single time.
That’s being the Big Ten, where a neutral site shouldn’t be a neutered site.
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