When the Big Ten picked Indianapolis to host the first-ever Big Ten Championship game, some wondered if it missed the boat by not going to a bigger city with more flair. However, as 66,002 packed into Lucas Oil Stadium for the third edition this past December, it was clear that the Big Ten had found a nice home in Indy.
Despite past success in Indianapolis, a new era is approaching for the Big Ten, and it means a growing geographic footprint. No longer is the conference Chicago-centric.
It must expand its look out east with the additions of east coast schools Rutgers and Maryland. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has mentioned putting a satellite office out east to give the conference a bigger presence out there.
However, does that also mean the conference could be looking to move the Big Ten Championship game around as well?
We know it won't be for the next two years, as the conference is locked in to having Indianapolis play host again. But, beyond that, hosting duties appear to be up in the air.
One thing the conference appears dead set against is putting the title game out in the extreme reaches of the conference.
"We believe it makes more sense perhaps to be more centrally located rather than moving that around to avoid a bad geographic matchup," Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia told ESPN.com.
Sorry MetLife Stadium, FedEx Field or the new Vikings Stadium—you're all out of luck for now.
Keeping it centrally located makes a lot of sense. Sending teams from way out east or way out west to locations across Big Ten country does no one any good.
Fans won't travel nearly as much, which means less of an atmosphere and a bad television experience. Seeing empty seats during bowl games is bad enough, it shouldn't happen in entire sections during your signature event.
Making Nebraska fans travel to New York or Washington, D.C. or sending Rutgers or Maryland fans to Minneapolis for a game has disaster written all over it.
Since it won't be on the extremes of Big Ten country, that leaves two logical locations to look at—Chicago and Indianapolis, especially since they are the only two cities to bid on the 2016 game.
Indianapolis' history of hosting this event shows just how good of an event and overall weekend they put on.
It's hard to argue with the entire downtown area being dedicated to the fan experience, whether its turning bars into designated homes for each fan base, or holding fan events indoors and outdoors—its all done within a five-six square block radius of each other.
Fans come for three things—food, beverages and the game. All of that is within an easy stroll down one of the main streets and less than a mile away from the home of the game. Fans don't need to rent cars or grab taxis—all your needs are within sight of Lucas Oil Stadium.
That's to say nothing of the stadium itself, which is one of the best this country has to offer, and having the title game be the focal point of an entire city's downtown is pretty hard to beat.
None of that can happen in Chicago, especially not within easy walking distance of Soldier Field. Chicago's recent addition of a sports commission does help matters.
It made a big difference when the Big Ten basketball tournament came to the Windy City this past year, setting an all-time attendance record by selling out every session.
Doing it right for basketball is much easier though; people are in town for a set amount of time from all 12 (now 14) schools. Getting the city involved and hyped to host a championship game in early December is a different animal.
Having the title game be the focal point of the entire downtown of Chicago isn't as feasible, and that's what this game needs. It needs to feel like a big event in a big city. Not just another part of what is happening inside the city.
Of course, there's the concern of hosting this event outdoors, in the elements. Yes, Big Ten fans are used to sitting through some cold weather games, but it's also about the product put on television screens throughout the country.
Playing a 6-3 game in the middle of a snowstorm may be funny, but it doesn't give the Big Ten an advantage for its champion or for the TV viewing audience either.
However, finding out if the grass is greener in a new location for a few years could help show the conference what works and what doesn't. The Big Ten will never know if it doesn't make the leap.
If the Big Ten was wise, Indianapolis should become the permanent home for the Big Ten Championship game.
There's one thing above all else that the Big Ten holds dear, and that's tradition. Keeping this game in Indianapolis would allow the conference to start a 21st century tradition amidst all the change that has occurred.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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