When you think of the term "Big Ten Championship Game," it seems pretty straightforward and impervious to misinterpretation. But for this year? Oh, this year we've got some problems.
Using the word "Big" to describe anything about this conference season is something we object to across the board. "Ten" is a strange number to affix to a conference with 12 teams and climbing. And "Championship" isn't exactly valid since the Big Ten team with the best record isn't participating.
Basically, the only non-objectionable word in that title is "Game." It is a football game. It will be played. That's about all we can say for "Game."
Understandably, fans are not enthused about "Game" this year, and ticket sales are pretty rough. According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska sold only a little more than half of its 15,000 allotted tickets. That looks bad until you find out that, per the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin barely sold half the amount Nebraska did.
We're probably going to have some extra-spotty fan sections in Indianapolis, in other words.
Obviously, this is a unique situation with Ohio State going undefeated and sitting at home. Jim Delany even flat-out said to ESPN.com that OSU's ineligibility is depressing ticket sales. He's probably not wrong.
Let's flag something else from that ESPN.com piece, however, because Jim Delany inadvertently points out a deeper flaw in the Big Ten Championship Game:
Last year's inaugural game between Wisconsin and Michigan State drew an announced crowd of 64,152 to Lucas Oil Stadium, which has a capacity of 66,159. Delany said that about 20,000 public-sale tickets were gobbled up in the first couple of hours last year, but that was an unique situation.
"You get a certain bounce off the inaugural game," he told us. "Then it kind of settles."
Did you catch that? Even with the "certain bounce" of first-year novelty, the Big Ten couldn't sell out its championship game last year—and that's at a stadium that would be one of the smallest in the Big Ten (you know, if the Colts joined or something). And now this year it's nowhere close.
Now, next year won't have a 7-5 team vying for the title. It really had better not, anyway. And ticket sales will be brisk if nearby Ohio State is in there. But if it takes a special set of circumstances to actually sell out the title game, the Big Ten's doing it wrong.
And we're here to help with one simple solution: Don't go to a neutral site for the game.
Make this game a home game for the best division winner of the two teams. Yeah, that would require a tiebreaker of sorts if the two teams had identical records and didn't play that year. But unless they're both 12-0, they're going to have losses on their record. And once you're there you can set tiebreakers around those losses pretty easily.
Plus, come on, two Big Ten teams at 12-0? The Big Ten should have to prepare for that contingency, obviously, but it's like the speedometer on an old Saab going up to 140 miles per hour. Who are you trying to kid here?
But you know who had no problems selling out a Big Ten football game this year? Nebraska. Wisconsin. Ohio State. Michigan. Or anyone (not named Northwestern) who was in the Big Ten title hunt down the stretch. Fans pack home stadiums. Why not reward the best team in the conference with one more home game to decide the conference championship?
It's honestly a bit of a shame that ticket sales are so slow to this weekend's game. I went to the inaugural Big Ten Championship. It was a lot of fun and was very well-run. I never heard any negative reactions to how it all went—and the game was excellent too. So I'm not about to knock Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium or the Big Ten for that. Seriously, it's worth your time to go. You should.
But since people aren't flocking to Indianapolis at nearly the pace necessary to make it an annual success, the Big Ten should think about home games instead. The fans are already saving up for a hyper-expensive Rose Bowl trip to begin with; do them a favor a month prior and let them stick around home for the title game.
It'll create the best atmosphere of any game in the Big Ten. Consequence has a way of amping up fan excitement (see: regular baseball crowds and playoff baseball crowds). It'll keep costs down for one of the teams without transferring them wholesale to the other. It's enormously beneficial to the fans that don't have money to burn on trips between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but can afford a football ticket or two. It'll still get massive TV ratings.
So, just tell Indianapolis it's not working out and throw the best team in the conference every year a bone. It's for the best.