Thursday, November 29, 2012

Windy >> Indy

Editor’s note: This piece is part of an inter-blog point-counterpoint series on the site of the B1G Championship game. Scoot on over to Crossroads of the Interwebz to hear their take on why this years Leaders-Legends showdown should stay in Indianapolis. Stay here and read why it belongs in the Windy City. Either way, make sure to vote in the poll on the sidebar!

This Saturday Wisconsin and Nebraska will face off in Indianapolis for the B1G* championship. One of those things is wrong, and it’s not that Bucky is playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl despite being the third best team in its division. The major problem with the championship game this year and every year is that it will be held in Indianapolis. Now if this was the Big XII or the Mountain West and we were debating between places like Boise, Idaho and Norman, Oklahoma Indy wouldn’t seem so bad. But we’re not stuck in those flyover states,** we have a world class city at the heart of our region in Chicago. Specifically, the alumni base, ease of travel, stadium, and city itself all make Chicago the ideal place to host the B1G championship game. So why isn’t it played there? I don’t know either, but here’s why it should be.

*Yes, I am going to write it that way for the entire post.
**Mostly at least.

Judging by where university students end up, Chicago is indisputably the capital of B1G country. Every school feeds professionals into the city in at least some capacity and the Chicago proudly accepts them. Scattered across neighborhoods are Badger bars (complete with northwoods décor and PBR specials), Buckeye bars (no free tattoos that I saw, but cheap burgers on Wednesdays), Spartan bars (no idea what I had there, but boy was I sick the next morning), and bars dedicated to every other B1G school. Quantitatively, the Chicago chapter of the University of Michigan Alumni Association has 899 members on Facebook. The Indianapolis chapter has 38. Those numbers aren’t cherry picked either – the Chicago chapters of both Indiana and Purdue alumni associations boast more members than their Indianapolis counterparts. Those alumni serve as a built in fan base: they man the grills in the parking lot and make the noise in the fourth quarter, things TV producers expect when they fork over mountains of dough for the rights to televise the B1G Championship. They also buy tickets – kind of a big deal.

But even if people don’t necessarily live there, they can still travel to Indy for the big game right? That’s true enough, but pretty much any metric will tell you that Chicago is not only home to more alumni, it’s also easier to get to. Chicago is a shorter drive by time or by distance from the twelve schools that make up the B1G. If you take the median distance or time instead of the mean (muting the effects of extreme outliers) you get the same result. There are more cities within a four-hour drive and more within six. Oh, and if you’d rather fly, that’s (barely) cheaper, too.

While neither one is the Rose Bowl,* Lucas Oil Stadium versus Soldier Field is an important question. Ignoring the startling political juxtaposition of those two names, the stadiums themselves are polar opposites as well. Lucas Oil is new, modern and conservative. It was opened in 2008 and while no one seems to hate it, no one really loves it either. Soldier Field on the other hand is a whole different animal. Equal parts Roman Temple and flying saucer, almost everyone has a strong opinion about the bizarre blend of past and future. Love or hate, at least it’s passion.

*That is the nicest grass I have ever been on.

And that passion is important to keep you warm. Like the Horseshoe, The Big House, Camp Randall, Happy Valley, and every other B1G stadium great and small, Soldier Field is outdoors. The snow, the rain, the wind, and cold are an integral and unique part of our college football in the Middle West. A December championship would strengthen that identity and give the conference something wholly unique to distinguish itself. The athletic directors and commissioner created this game hoping that it would serve as a capstone to the football season. What better atmosphere to provide a showcase moment for the B1G? Real grass, a windswept stadium off Lake Michigan, and a corn fed Midwestern boy in short sleeves. More than three yards and a cloud of dust, or Paul Bunyan’s Axe, that is our identity. By moving the game outdoors it becomes more of a spectacle and more of a destination in and of itself. As outdoor hockey games have shown, fans will show up in droves. People that tune in from places where 25 and flurries would shut down the city will be thinking, “wow, those fans are nuts” or "that team is tough." Which is good, especially when otherwise they would be thinking, “oh great, now we get to watch OSU loose to another SEC team in the National Championship?”

As countless bowl games have shown, cities-as-destinations are an important factor for neutral site games. There’s a reason the Badgers go to Las Vegas to play UNLV instead of organizing a home and home with Louisiana-Monroe and it’s the exact same reason the Orange Bowl is held in Miami instead of Sarasota. When people spend hundreds of dollars to travel to a football game, they don’t want that game to be in a town dubbed “Indian-no-place” or “Nap City.” Chicago is America’s second city; it has plenty of culture and entertainment to fill a long weekend. Indianapolis is the home of the NCAA. While Frank Sinatra proclaimed, “Chicago is my kind of town,” the Bottle Rockets asked, “is this Hell or Indianapolis?” You probably already know my answer.

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