The Big Ten spring meetings are winding down in Chicago today. What precisely has been set in stone this week, I'm not sure. The two discussion topics generating the most interest are unresolved for now, but will be determined soon enough.
1. Whether the league will go to a 9-game conference football schedule in 2017, which appears to be the soonest possible since nonconference schedules are pretty well established up to then.
2. Whether the league will hold its football championship game and men's and women's basketball tourneys in Chicago or Indianapolis in the future.
It sounds like the 9-game football schedule will happen. But remember, this is only 2011. Six years might as well be 600 in today's college sports landscape. We could have the next big seismic shift in conference realignment as the move from super-conferences to super-duper-conferences happens, and it will one day happen.
Comments like these from Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon pleasantly surprise me:
“I wish it could happen sooner because I believe it is a positive thing. Fans love to see conference competition, and you have so many great rivalries and traditions and histories around Big Ten football.
“The more we get to play, the better.”
Yes. He gets it. Besides, why expand your conference to include Nebraska if you aren't going to play more conference games?
But will it happen? Football already carries the freight for athletic departments. Now, the system is rigged for the big dogs of college football to get seven (a few take eight) home games and home gates per year. By six years from now, the goal will probably be eight home games for everybody. Maybe college football will approve a 13th regular-season game. You can play nine league games, and get the fill of cupcakes teams currently enjoy right now.
The wheels are already greased, since the Big Ten begins post-Thanksgiving play for everyone this year, and the Big 12 has three regular-season games set for Dec. 3. You just drop a bye week, and voila, 13-game schedule. Can 14 be far behind?
As for the title-game location, I can't improve on what Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote today in support of Chicago's Soldier Field as the site. Read Wetzel's piece here.
Is outdoor weather really that much worse on the first Saturday of December than the last weekend of November, when six Big Ten teams will host outdoor games every year?
For all the mythology of outdoor games in Green Bay and Chicago, the most frigid and nasty weather for games there generally comes in early January, not early December. Besides, Big Ten football doesn't conjure any images of 68 degrees, artificial turf and a roof. You use television to sell imagery, and the imagery of a Big Ten game being played on the shores of Lake Michigan on the first Saturday of December, where the toughest of the tough meet, would be powerful stuff to fans in the West and the South.
As the Chicago Tribune noted, the average temperatures on Dec. 3 in Chicago are a high of 41 and a low of 28. Chances aren't great that the weather would impact the game, and pretty slim that it would slim it would wreck the game.
But I look for the game to stay in Indianapolis and its indoor stadium long after this year. Which means a bone has to be thrown to Chicago, and that could be in the form of getting back the Big Ten basketball tourney, at least on a rotating basis. Which, to me, would be backward. Indy is perfect for the basketball tourneys. Canseco Fieldhouse is simply a better venue for college ball than the United Center, and downtown Indianapolis is a better location than the west side of Chicago.
And this is from someone who selfishly would rather have the tourney in Chicago because it shaves 90 minutes to two hours off the drive each way.
Trust me, that drive home from Indianapolis to Cedar Rapids can be pretty long when you're leaving Indy at 8 or 9 at night after a first-round Iowa loss. But something always seems to happen on the drive home -- somewhere else. Two years ago, it was the six-overtime Syracuse-Connecticut game in the Big East tourney. This year, it was the tsunami that hit Japan.So, we'll see what happens. I know this: If in 2005 you'd have said we were six years out from Nebraska joining the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah joining the Pac-10, and TCU joining the Big East, I'd have said you're no fortune-teller.