On Sunday the Big Ten announced the sites for the conference championship game in football and the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments. The Big Ten Football Championship Game will be held at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis through the 2015 season. After both being held in Indy the past four years, the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments will begin rotating between Indy and Chicago. Both tournaments will be held at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indy in 2012, 2014, and in 2016. In 2013 and 2015, the men’s tournament will be held at the United Center in Chicago while the women’s will be held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois; a suburb of Chicago.
The plan to hold the football title game at Lucas Oil Field, an indoor stadium, is a major mistake and completely goes against the image of Big Ten football. The Big Ten has long prided itself on being a tough, physical conference that is heavy on tradition. Late season Big Ten games are routinely played when it is very cold outdoors, there is often snow. Sure, those conditions are not pleasant for the players or the fans, but this is football in the midwest, where we demand a toughness not only from the players but from the fans. Anyone can go to and enjoy a game when it is sunny and in the 70s, it takes a true fan to enjoy being at a game when the temperature is near freezing, the wind is blowing, and the snow is in the air. Yet those are the types of fans that we routinely see in the midwest, dedicated, tough, blue collar fans who are always there for their team and can appreciate a game played in less than ideal circumstances.
Think about some of the iconic images of football games from the past. How many of those games involve snow or cold weather? Football is a sport heavily based in tradition and for most of its history that tradition has not involved playing indoors. Would Lambeau field be as iconic if it was a dome instead of the frozen tundra? Would the Snow Bowl be memorable if it had been played in sunny weather? The Big Ten and its fans have criticized the SEC and other southern teams for not wanting to play in the north late in the season due to fear of the weather. Yet, when it comes time to choose a location for the conference championship game, the Big Ten runs straight for a dome. I had thought, and hoped, that after Minnesota got an outdoor stadium the Big Ten would be done with domes.
It would be one thing if there was not a good outdoor stadium that could be used but Soldier Field in Chicago is an iconic stadium that is located in a major city in the heart of Big Ten country, a perfect location for the game. Imagine how this could have gone, on conference title weekend, while all the other conferences are playing their games in boring domes, the Big Ten is playing theirs outdoors, on Lake Michigan, in the snow. It would be a different image that would instantly give fans of other conferences from around the country a reason to watch, simply because it looked different than all the other games that were on. At the same time it would give the Big Ten the perfect image to represent the conference and the schools that are in it.
The decision to switch to a rotating set of locations for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments was an equally bad mistake by the conference. The men’s tournament used to rotate between Chicago and Indy and I have been to it in both. While Chicago is a great city and a place that I love to visit, it is too big to give the Big Ten Tournament the attention it deserves. When I was there, the tournament was barely a blip on the radar of the city. Walking around downtown, I saw very fans of any of the Big Ten schools. Chicago is just too large and the fans are too spread out. In contrast, during both the men’s and women’s tournaments, Indy is full of fans of the various schools. Every bar or restaurant you go to has several groups wearing the colors of some school. There is an energy that is in the air when every block or so you smile while yelling “O-H” to a fellow Buckeye fan or bristle at two fans of that school up north exchanging a, well you know what they say and I do not wish to repeat that here.
The mistake of having the men’s tournament in Chicago is dwarfed by the size of the mistake of having the women’s tournament in a suburb of Chicago. While the Sears Centre looks like a nice arena, it is in a suburb where people are going to have to drive to go anywhere. This is going to completely kill any atmosphere that the tournament could have because it spreads out the fans too much. To make matters worse, in their announcement the Big Ten mentioned the possibility of playing the men’s and women’s tournaments on the same weekend when they are both in Chicago. This would be a huge mistake and it seems like the Big Ten is trying to kill the women’s tournament, even as it has started to grow in popularity in recent years. It would be one thing if the two tournaments were played in close proximity to each other so that fans of a school could attend games at both, however nobody is going to brave Chicago traffic to drive to the suburbs for a game.
It is hard to imagine how the Big Ten could have made a bigger mistake on this weekend’s announcement, short of playing everything in Ann Arbor. The Big Ten Football Championship should be played at Soldier Field in Chicago, outdoors, the way football is meant to be played. The men’s and women’s tournaments should be in Indy where the city has embraced the tournaments and helped to provide a festive atmosphere that makes them so much fun to attend. Hopefully in five years the conference realizes the mistake they have made and moves to correct it.