Why moving the B1G Championship to Lambeau Field would be a horrible idea
It took 2 years for the SEC to realize that a change was needed.
The idea of an SEC Championship was something that Steve Spurrier spearheaded back in the early 1990s. There were concerns that the SEC would cannibalize itself and spoil a chance at a national championship. The result was just the contrary. The SEC built what’s been considered the premier conference title game that’s nearly 3 decades in.
Oh, that’s right. The “took 2 years to realize that a change was needed” thing.
You see, the first 2 years of the SEC Championship, they played at Legion Field in Birmingham. A place with great history that was home to many a classic Iron Bowl matchups, it was. But a place that was outdoors in suboptimal playing conditions for early December, it also was. In 1994, the SEC Championship moved to Atlanta to play in the Georgia Dome and never looked back.
The event became the gold standard for all conference championships, and it made for certain that the SEC would annually host a title game that highlighted the maximum ability of both teams in a major, easily accessible city.
Consider that history lesson the main reason why the B1G should punt on a conference title game at Lambeau Field.
If you’re wondering why that needs to be said, perhaps you missed the report that Lambeau Field was preparing to bid to host the conference championship:
On #Packers shareholders meeting call, Mark Murphy said they’re planning to apply for Lambeau Field to host the Big Ten championship game between 2023-2030.
— Lily Zhao (@LilySZhao) July 23, 2020
I don’t care if you’re a cheesehead-wearing, Wisconsin football-loving football purist who gets goosebumps listening to Steve Sabol narrate NFL Films. You have to be willing to see the massive flaws with that plan.
Let’s start with the obvious. That is, there’s a reason why national championships aren’t played in cold-weather stadiums. The old “quality of play” argument makes sense, especially during a time in football’s history when passing offenses are prioritized differently than they were 20 years ago. That’s coming from someone who strongly advocates for SEC teams to actually travel north of the Mason-Dixon Line (which they’re finally doing in the 2020s).
The goal of a conference championship is to paint the league in the best possible light. It’s not to play at the most historic venue just because it would be a unique, throwback look. If that’s what the league wanted, they would’ve been playing at Soldier Field for the past decade.
When the Soldier Field remodel happened in 2002, it was criticized by many because instead of modernizing it with a retractable roof, decision-makers elected to make it look like a spaceship. Stadiums with retractable roofs were the present and future. Indianapolis recognized that when it moved into Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s why Indianapolis has been hosting Final Fours, Super Bowls and B1G Championships for the last decade. Chicago, meanwhile, hosts Bears games and Luke Bryan concerts.
But at the very least, Chicago is at least easy to get to. There’s this thing called “a major airport” there. The same is true of Indianapolis.
Asking B1G fans to either drive all the way to the thumb of Wisconsin or fly into Milwaukee and drive an additional 2 hours to Green Bay is OK in September. Doing so in the first week of December is absurd. Not when there are other options … like where the game currently is.
I’m not saying that nobody would want to go Green Bay. Lord knows Wisconsin fans would have this circled on their calendars if this happened. But at a time when athletic directors are searching for new ways to attract the average fan to the in-game experience (under normal circumstances) when the at-home TV viewing experience has never been better, this would be a step in the wrong direction.
Besides the SEC playing in a dome at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Big 12 has its conference title game at AT&T Stadium, which has a retractable roof. The ACC plays in an NFL stadium in the southeast, which is obviously a better bet to produce normal playing and viewing conditions than any outdoor stadium in the Midwest … or the northern part of California.
For whatever reason, the Pac-12 made the move to host its conference title game at the newly built Levi Stadium.
Check that. We know why it was held there. A new NFL stadium in that region of the country made it an obvious choice for 2014-19. Those games have been an annual embarrassment for the Pac-12. Why? It’s partially because they elected to play the game at 5 p.m. local time on a Friday (because TV). Average paid attendance from 2014-19 was 45,509, and that number was down to an average of 36,907 the last 2 years. That’s less than what Northwestern’s average home game attendance was in 2019.
Not surprisingly, the Pac-12 is moving its conference championship to a new venue in 2020. The domed Allegiant Stadium, where the Las Vegas Raiders will play their home games, will host the Pac-12 Championship. Maybe the Pac-12 will finally stand a chance of making its conference look relevant instead of playing in a half-empty stadium.
Optics matter. Some would say that optics haven’t exactly benefitted the B1G with the game in Indianapolis because the conference went 3 consecutive years without putting its conference title winner in the Playoff. Go back and watch any of those 3 games and tell me that the B1G didn’t put its best product forward. Optics can’t always save a Playoff-hopeful team with 2 losses. In fact, they haven’t yet for any conference.
This would be a different discussion if attendance in Indianapolis was declining. It’s not, though. The B1G Championship hit a minimum of 65,000 fans in each of the last 5 years. By the way, 6 different B1G teams participated in the conference championship during that stretch, so any belief that it’s all Ohio State fans is foolish (the highest paid attendance was actually Iowa-Michigan State in 2015).
The current contract for Indianapolis runs through 2021, and it’ll actually host the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2022. If the B1G is lured by the appeal of hosting its marquee football event in “The Frozen Tundra,” it’ll be a mistake reminiscent of moving to the 9-game conference schedule in 2016.
Say what you want about the SEC, but one thing you can’t criticize the league for is continually understanding the best possible way for its teams to have a path to a national championship. The B1G would be wise to think like the SEC.
The B1G Championship isn’t broke, and even if it was, Green Bay in early December sure as heck wouldn’t be the way to fix it.