Dome could host Big Ten football championship

Several cities have spoken to the Big Ten about hosting a potential conference championship game after Nebraska joins in 2011.

by John Hageman

For an event that doesnâÄôt exist yet, the Big Ten Championship game has garnered a significant amount of interest from potential host sites in the MidwestâÄôs biggest cities, including Minneapolis. When Nebraska officially joins the Big Ten in 2011, the conference will have enough teams to institute a championship game at the end of the regular season, just as the Southeastern Conference , Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 do. Because Nebraska has yet to formally join the conference, and the Big Ten has yet to announce the format for a championship game âÄî although it is widely assumed there will be one âÄî only very preliminary and informal talks between the Big Ten and potential sites have taken place. A Big Ten Championship game is lucrative for both the conference and the site involved. The Big 12, which will no longer have a championship game when Nebraska and Colorado leave, made $11.1 million from its 2008 championship game, according to its federal tax return. The potential amount of out-of-town revenue is enough to warrant interest from several potential site hosts. âÄú[The Big Ten Championship game] falls under the category of signature events where you attract people who earn their money outside of Minnesota and come here to spend it, which is the best kind of economic impact,âÄù said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome and is among those interested in hosting the event. Other venues expressing interest in hosting the event include Green BayâÄôs Lambeau Field, IndianapolisâÄô Lucas Oil Stadium, ChicagoâÄôs Soldier Field, DetroitâÄôs Ford Field and Cleveland Browns Stadium . Minneapolis has hosted NCAA menâÄôs basketball tournament games at the Metrodome 10 times since 1986, including the 1992 and 2001 Final Fours . Minneapolis was one of 10 cities that bid to host a Final Four between 2012 and 2016 , but was not selected. Minneapolis still could be a site for the preliminary rounds of the tournament, which have yet to be announced for that five-year period. Although he wasnâÄôt given an official explanation of the decision, Lester suspects the denial had everything to do with the uncertainty of the future of the Vikings and the stadium, which could also affect the cityâÄôs chances of landing a Big Ten Championship game. The VikingsâÄô lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011, with no solid plans for a future stadium in sight. Minneapolis does hold a potential advantage, however, in being one of only a few climate-controlled sites available. Lucas Oil Stadium, the newest of the potential stadiums, has a retractable roof and Ford Field is a dome. Lester is confident that if Minneapolis came up with an attractive pitch to the Big Ten, it could at least be part of a potential rotation of two or three cities that would switch off holding the event. âÄúIt is always a challenge competing against the new palaces,âÄù Lester said. âÄúThere is a natural tendency to want to go to the newer place. But that being said, if you can bid and come up with an attractive package, you could at least get in the rotation. My guess is that theyâÄôre not going to permanently site it somewhere, and theyâÄôre going to move it around.âÄù Lester isnâÄôt alone in his thinking. David Gilbert, president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, told The Ohio Morning Journal he expects the game to be rotated . Gilbert also told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, âÄúour feeling is Big Ten football is outdoor football, and weather is part of it.” If the Big Ten Championship game is instituted the first year that Nebraska is a member, Indianapolis could potentially host the championship game just weeks before hosting Super Bowl XLVI . Indianapolis has also exclusively hosted the Big Ten menâÄôs basketball tournament since 2008, and the womenâÄôs tournament since 2002 in Conseco Fieldhouse . âÄúIndianapolis is a city that, we think, Big Ten fans are familiar with,âÄù Indiana Sports Corporation spokesman John Dedman said . âÄúWe think the city as a whole has a lot of strong points and many of those are what we think the Big Ten would be looking for in this championship game.âÄù Green BayâÄôs relative lack of size compared to the metropolitan areas vying for the championship game could potentially be its appeal. Packers manager of corporate communications Aaron Popkey said the atmosphere at a Packers game has the festive qualities of a college football game. âÄúThe gameday environment here, in a lot of respects, is comparable to a college atmosphere where youâÄôve got a lot of people descending upon the town for the day âĦ and fans tailgating around the stadium and the neighborhoods nearby,âÄù Popkey said. âÄúItâÄôs quite a unique scene in the NFL world, and we feel it would be a very unique scene to host the conference championship game for the Big Ten.âÄù Lambeau Field hasnâÄôt hosted a college football game since 1983, but held an outdoor hockey game between Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2006. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is likely to discuss the logistics of a championship game Monday at the Big Ten media days in Chicago, Big Ten spokesman Scott Chipman said. Nebraska athletics director Tom Osborne will also be in attendance.