Most bloggers have progressed to stage two of the expansion derby. Now that we know expansion in the Big T(welv)en is done (for now) the next phase in the guessing game is aligning the divisions. Terry Hutchens, in one of his rare (possible) instances of getting something right, has already put Purdue and Indiana in with Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. Of course, he already has Purdue and Indiana fighting for fifth place each year. He reverts to being wrong in this by ignoring that Purdue has played Ohio State tough for more than a decade, has been almost dead even with Michigan State in overall conference performance, and that Michigan is in the midst of sinking fast.
Instead of going with these East-West projections (which I already made in Monday's entry) I am going to skip to the next most important step: Where do we play the championship game?
Most conference title games are played in large NFL stadiums located in the market of the conference. The ACC has had title games in Charlotte (home of the Carolina Panthers), Jacksonville (home of the Jaguars), and Tampa (home of the Buccaneers). The SEC title game has been played at the Georgia Dome (home of the Falcons) since 1994. The Big X(II) has been played in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs), St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome (home of the Rams), Texas Stadium and Cowboys Stadium (home of the Cowboys), Reliant Stadium (home of the Texans), and the Alamodome (neutral site).
Other than the first two SEC title games at Legion Field in Alabama and the three Big X(II) games played in San Antonio, each has been in an NFL stadium. None have been on campus (though Legion Field was long the host of Alabama-Auburn). That rules out the likelihood of using one of the Big Ten's mega stadiums (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan) unless there is a provision it would be a neutral field game only. That leaves the following NFL stadiums in the Big T(welv)en market:
Soldier Field - Chicago
Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis
HHH Metrodome - Minneapolis
Lambeau Field - Green Bay
Ford Field - Detroit
Cleveland Browns Stadium - Cleveland
Paul Brown Stadium - Cincinnati
Heinz Field - Pittsburgh
All eight of those, short of the Metrodome, are solid choices and state-of-the-art facilities that are relatively new. Only the Metrodome, opening in 1982, hasn't had a major renovation in recent years (like Lambeau). Let's break them down one by one.
Built: 1922 (Major Renovation in 2002)
Capacity: 61,500 (smallest in the NFL)
Soldier Field has some excellent pros going for it. With the men's and women's basketball tournaments already in Indianapolis through at least 2012 the conference might want to split up the hosting for its major events to another city. That may be the only major strike against Indianapolis. Chicago is centrally located within the conference and the appeal of playing its championship game in December, allowing for "typical Big T(welv)en weather" might be strong. With the conference offices in Chicago it would be a snap, too. The Men's Basketball Tournament has been to the city several times and Chicago is the biggest city in the conference by far. The conference has regularly used Soldier Field for non-conference games, and the possibility of a Purdue-Notre Dame game there has been mentioned.
Public transportation to the stadium is also very easy on the El and the Metra. Even though Northwestern is in a suburb of Chicago it wouldn't be a major home field advantage if the Wildcats made it. Just about the only negative against Chicago would be weather. If the conference wants the game outside, it will be here. If they prefer it to be indoors (as the SEC does and the Big X(II) on most occasions) Soldier Field will lose out. There is a precedent, however. The Big X(II) has used the outdoor Arrowhead Stadium five times, the most of any of their championship games. Capacity is also an issue. Soldier Field is smaller than most Big Ten Stadiums, seating more than only Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern.
Lucas Oil Stadium
Capacity: 63,000 (second smallest in NFL), expandable to 70,000
The new home of the Colts is incredibly appealing for a Big Ten championship game. Like Chicago, Indianapolis is right in the heart of the conference. The Big T(welv)en knows the city will do a great job of hosting after the way it has put on the basketball tournaments at Conseco Fieldhouse. The retractable roof gives the option of going with a weather game or leaving it closed if weather gets really crazy. Few stadiums in the NFL have more amenities than Lucas Oil simply because it is one of the newest stadiums in the league. The recent Final Four in the building was an indication of how well it can host major events. The 2012 Super Bowl will be there as well.
The negatives for Indianapolis are few. No team would have a major home field advantage. Purdue's chances of making the game are more negative than positive. Indiana's are even less. Illinois, 1.5 hours away, are bad too. Ohio State would be the next closest team, but the Buckeyes would bring a ton of fans if the game was played in Beirut. The Fighting Illini and Hoosiers would bring a ton of fans too, if they had fans for their respective football teams. Just about the only negative against Indianapolis is that the basketball tournament is already here. Public transportation is negligible, but a compact downtown area eliminates that factor.
I am leaving the Metrodome on this list because it is an indoor stadium. The former home of the Golden Gophers and current home of the Vikings is the only stadium in the country that has hosted a World Series, a Super Bowl, a Final Four, and NBA games. It is one of the last multi-purpose venues still around, as the Gophers still use its baseball configuration in the spring. The Vikings have been wanting a new stadium for years, but there are no concrete plans in place.
Minneapolis has excellent public transportation as well. The Hiawatha Light Rail drops fans off mere feet from the stadium. The Gophers had trouble selling the place out when they played there, but there would be local interest if Minnesota makes the championship game with a chance for its first Rose Bowl in 50 years. The major downside is distance. Minneapolis is not centrally located, but with a major airport (and that same light-rail line stopping at the airport) it is easy to get to the city. I can see the Metrodome grabbing one or two games in a rotation.
Built: 1957 (Major Renovation in 2003)
You knew this was coming. The country views the Big T(welv)en as the slow, cold weather conference. What better place to have its title game than the Frozen Tundra? Few NFL Stadiums can compare to the baseball cathedrals of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Lambeau is like a Big T(welv)en Stadium in that there is one seating bowl with the luxury suites far above the field. The conference has played hockey there a few times thanks the the Badgers hosting Michigan State and Ohio State. No stadium on this matches the history, as it is by far the oldest stadium in the NFL (I don't count Soldier Field, since it was torn down and rebuilt).
Unfortunately, it is in Green Bay. Wisconsin is the obvious team with the home field advantage, but the city of Green Bay is smaller than Michigan Stadium. There is a major question of if it can host an event of this size. It has hosted NFC title games though, so I could see the Conference giving it a shot at least once.
With two teams in the state, Ford Field would be a major advantage for Michigan or Michigan State if the Spartans or Wolverines broke through. Detroit is also centralized enough that transportation wouldn't be a major concern. It would be just as far for Penn State as Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions travel well anyway. Iowa would be the next farthest team, but the Hawkeyes travel well too. These three schools would also easily come to Indianapolis or Chicago. The stadium itself has hosted a Super Bowl and a Final Four, so we know they can pull off big events. The fact that it is indoors means it will likely receive major consideration as well.
There are not a ton of negatives against Detroit. The MAC Championship is already played there on championship weekend, but I don't think a game that struggles to sell 20,000 tickets would keep a sure sellout away.
Cleveland Browns Stadium
This is where we pass into longshot territory, but based on capacity alone Cleveland would have a chance. They are strongly in Ohio State territory with no major college team nearby. It is not unheard of to play there, as both Wisconsin and Ohio State have played road games against MAC teams there recently. Penn State fans would love a game that close.
Unfortunately, I think the five options above are just better. With Cleveland you are starting to decentralize the game itself (except in Minnesota's case). Weather could be a major factor, but it would be a major with Chicago since both stadiums are right next to a major lake. If LeBron leaves this summer there won't be much of a city left anyway after all the rioting.
Paul Brown Stadium
I have been to a Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium and it is a nice place to play. Unlike Cleveland, Green Bay, and Chicago it has a Field Turf Field that won't get torn up in horrible winter weather. It is far enough south that an early December game could still be quite pleasant. The Buckeyes would once again have a major presence, with Purdue and Indiana the next closest teams. Its capacity is in line with most on this list. It is probably the best outdoor stadium and it is still central to the conference.
Unfortunately, Cincinnati is not a huge Big T(welv)en town. The Bearcats have won consecutive Big East crowns and even though they play at their own Nippert Stadium, there is the possibility they would cause a conflict by playing at home the same weekend. Cincinnati is also closer to SEC country than Big T(welv)en country.
This is probably the biggest longshot on the list. While the Nittany Lions would love it, the Cornhuskers would hate it. Of course, this is negated by the fact that Nebraska would sell out a game played in a sulfur storm on Venus. Since the University of Pittsburgh plays its home games here as well there is always the possibility of a schedule conflict. The Big East plays its regular season finale on championship weekend, so a possible Pitt-West Virginia game could prevent this from happening.
Heinz Field's grass surface is also terrible. NFL players have consistently rated the surface as the worst of the 18 natural glass fields in the league. Fred Taylor even called it, "a lawsuit waiting to happen". I think there is little to no chance of the game being played here.
So there you have it. These are only my thoughts on where the game should be played. That leads us to another scientific poll. Where do you think the game should be played? Any other suggestions should be listed in the comments.