In the college football world, a lot has happened since last Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game unfolded in Indianapolis for the second consecutive year. (More on that in a minute). Northern Illinois crashed the Bowl Championship Series party, creating a venom that is usually reserved for teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament.
The coach who won that Big Ten title game has bolted Wisconsin for Arkansas in an unexpected move. Notre Dame, Ball State and Purdue learned their bowl destinations, with the Boilermakers hiring a new coach — from that same no-respect Mid-American Conference as Northern Illinois and Ball State. (In case, you didn ‘t know I’m a Ball State grad and proud to be making the trip to Florida for the always popular Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl).
But my focus is back to Indiana and the business of sports. Yes, the 41,000-plus in attendance at Lucas Oil Saturday night was a dramatic drop from more than 62,000 a year earlier. Yes, TV ratings were down (falling almost as fast as the Nebraska defenders as Wisconsin running backs piled up more than 500 yards in a 70-31 victory). Yes, there is concern despite Indy being in the middle of a five-year contract to serve as host. Many say the attendance problem would have been solved if undefeated Ohio State had not been on probation, but that falls into the category of things we can’t control.
I volunteered both Friday and Saturday at the Big Ten Fanfest at the Indiana Convention Center and attended the game. A few observations.
- Wisconsin and Nebraska fans showed up and they liked what they saw. I talked with numerous parents and family members who, like so many before them, truly appreciated downtown Indianapolis and all its amenities. They enjoyed Georgia Street before the game and they, at least on the Wisconsin side, enjoyed a winning effort in Lucas Oil for the second straight year.
- Yes, this is only anecdotal, but I witnessed far fewer fans from the Hoosier state taking part in either the Fanfest or the game. On a smaller scale, the Fanfest was similar to the NFL Experience that took place in conjunction with Super Bowl XLVI earlier this year. An opportunity seemed to be missed in not generating more interest and participation on a local or regional level.
- These events, and many others, bring a true excitement and economic impact to downtown. The benefits both in the short term and in further establishing the Circle City as a destination spot are numerous.
Let’s allow the creative people who do such a good job bringing these sports championships here to work on ways to bring more fans into the fold. And if you’re looking for something else to do in late November/early December on a post-Thanksgiving weekend, give the Big Ten and its championship a good hard look in coming years.