It's been two years since the Big Ten instituted a championship game in football for the first time in its history—and no, Ohio State vs. Michigan doesn't count. Indianapolis won the rights to host that game, and those rights continue through the title game of 2015.
Indianapolis hasn't failed in any respect—it's a very well organized event and doubtless there are some fans who appreciate the domed atmosphere. But Indianapolis has some competition going forward, namely the city of Chicago...and we are more than eager to see the game come to the Windy City once the time comes for the Big Ten to decide the fate of its title game for 2016 and beyond.
Here's more from ESPN.com about Chicago making a renewed effort to become home to the Big Ten's special events:
The Chicago Sports Commission is partnering with the Big Ten for the league's upcoming men's basketball tournament at the United Center. Along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the commission on Monday announced a series of events to be held in conjunction with the tournament, including a fan fest downtown at Daley Plaza, a tip-off luncheon and a VIP/alumni party. Chicago didn't have these events in the past, which hurt when the Big Ten moved the basketball tournament to Indianapolis in 2006. Indy and Chicago are co-hosting the event through 2015.
Indianapolis will host the football championship for at least another three seasons, but Stark would love to bring the event to Chicago in 2016.
"Just the synergy between the Big Ten and Chicago warrants a discussion about the event," Stark told ESPN.com. "The amount of alumni here in this market, it's an event that we need to look at. We'll first talk to the folks at [Soldier Field Management] and the Bears, and get their interest level. But on the surface, it certainly seems like an event that has a place in Chicago."
The bid process for the next set of football title games is at least a year away, and Stark hopes the upcoming basketball tournament will help his group formulate what works and what doesn't. The Chicago commission is working closely with the Big Ten and local Big Ten alumni groups leading up to next month's event.
This is all largely uncharted territory for Chicago, which previously could attract events by basically saying "because it's Chicago" and standing on that (we're simplifying, but by less than you would think). And hey, Chicago's a great place with as rich a sports history as any city between the coasts.
But history's just that. So it's good that things like actually having a sports commission are now priorities for the city, so it's not operating at a relative deficit straight out of the gate when it comes to wooing new events.
Chicago does have other challenges here, though, and seeing the game at Soldier Field is not at all a sure thing. Fortunately, none of them have to be deal-breakers.
Stark tells ESPN.com that unlike Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Soldier Field is not centrally located. Well, that's one way to think of it. It is actually in a central location, just not one that Stark would prefer. Observe:
Jokes aside, the thing about Chicago is that the layout of the city does actually draw people toward where Soldier Field is. There's that old saying that goes "All roads lead to Rome"—well in Chicago, all roads lead to downtown. Not all all, obviously, but the major highways don't take you to the middle of the metro area—they all emanate like spokes from the heart of the city itself, right there on the edge of Lake Michigan.
The same goes for its train routes, both on the CTA lines that mostly stay in Chicago proper and on the longer-distance Metra lines that serve the suburbs. Between that and Chicago's prodigious bus network, getting downtown by your favored means of transportation is a relatively easy process.
So while Soldier Field is not smack dab in the middle of the metro area itself, it is still located almost exactly at the nexus of where the transportation options bring people. It's where the roads and train tracks lead, and that—not strict centrality—is the most important aspect of location.
One of the knocks on Soldier Field is its size—or lack thereof. NFL stadiums are typically between 65,000 and 80,000 seats, with only seven of the 32 falling outside that range. Soldier Field is one of them; despite being recently overhauled in 2003, it still seats only 61,500 fans, second-smallest in the NFL. There'll never be an impressive attendance number for whoever plays in the Big Ten Championship if it's in Chicago.
But stadium capacity is obviously not a large concern for Delany, as Lucas Oil Stadium is scarcely bigger than Soldier Field at 62,421. And for whatever reason—economy, two ineligible teams overpassed, Indianapolis—the attendance at Lucas Oil in 2012's title game was painfully low; ESPN.com put the figure at about 41,000 people.
One would certainly hope that in Chicago, a metro area with about five times as many people as Indianapolis' (9.5 million to 1.8 million) and two airports located on public transportation lines to help get visiting fans into town, finding enough people to pack Soldier Field to the brim won't be that much of a difficulty.
Ever been in Chicago in December? It can be, um, a challenge. This December wasn't that much of a problem, as according to WeatherUnderground.com it was 60 degrees in Chicago on December 1, the day of the Big Ten Championship. But the average high is a good 20 degrees lower than that, so maybe leave your shorts at home if the Big Ten Championship comes this way.
But you know what? An average high of 40 isn't that bad. Same with an average low of 28. The numbers creep slightly lower the further into the first week of December we go, but we're essentially talking about the same kind of weather.
Moreover, the snowy season is only barely getting started; per ClimateStations.com, Chicago gets about eight inches of snow every December (none here this winter, for the record), and considering that November sees about two inches and January gets about 10, one can easily conclude that early December is not a prime opportunity for the worst winter weather.
The average snow depth in Chicago doesn't reach an inch until the middle of the month, and according to this graph, there's only about a four percent chance of more than two inches of snow falling on the city on any given day of early December.
Yes, it's still Chicago on the cusp of winter and this sort of thing is always technically a possibility. But weather's always going to affect the logistics of transporting fans to the stadium and then home more than it's going to affect the football itself, and in the Midwest, that's going to be a concern no matter where the game is held.
So as you can see, there isn't a whole lot of reason for the Big Ten to say no to Chicago. This is a city that is teeming with Big Ten alumni and has the means to get fans from other cities into town—and then from the city to the stadium—with relative ease. Soldier Field is as famous as any football venue in America, and Chicago is a tourist destination unlike any in the Big Ten footprint.
Yes, we're just the tiniest bit biased, having moved here not too long ago. But hey, if we are, so's the Big Ten itself, which is headquartered in nearby Park Ridge. So there.