Scott Dochterman from The Gazette (Iowa City) wrote a nice story touching on the proliferation of neutral site games in recent years and how the trend is being received and incorporated in the Big Ten. Of course my initial reaction was to make fun of Iowa thanks to a sentiment from Kirk Ferentz:
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz supported the 2012 game in Chicago because of the high percentage of UI students from that area.
Kirk clearly misspoke, b/c if proximity to student hometown was the factor, game would have been in Naperville. @ScottDochterman— Chris H. (@GoAUpher) August 18, 2014
Jokes aside, my gut reaction is never supportive of these games.
I for one, remain saddened that big time games will happen in NFL venues instead of on campus where they belong. #getoffmylawn— Chris H. (@GoAUpher) August 18, 2014
That's the college football purist in me. I really love the college football experience. I love the feel of campus in the fall. I love the traditions, the sights, the sounds. How much do I love these things? I enjoyed Badger gamedays in Madison even on weeks the Gophers weren't in town. Did I want the Badgers to lose by 90 every weekend? Of course. Would I turn down the chance to tailgate with friends or go to a game on the cheap (even if the Badgers were playing Punching Bag U)? Nope. Because I love college football! It's why I will always have Gopher season tickets even though I don't live anywhere near Minnesota and could easily attend games for less a la carte. Because I love owning my part of that tradition, of that pagentry. I'm a kid in a candy store every fall when my tickets come because the chance to watch even one game in TCF is that exciting to me. So do I support neutral site games?
But I appear to be in the minority on this one.
Jim Delany, Supporter Of Neutral Sites
One important section of Dochterman's story looks at what the Big Ten's stance on neutral site games is. I'll give you one guess what the leadership that brought you Maryland and Rutgers has to say about this topic:
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany issued a leaguewide memo on Oct. 23, 2013 — about two months after the Wisconsin-LSU series was finalized — reinforcing the league’s policies for neutral-site games.
Delany’s letter, which was obtained by The Gazette, highlighted the league’s support for neutral sites provided at least half of the series occur within the Big Ten footprint and under the league’s television agreements. Delany wrote an arrangement would be "disapproved" if a Big Ten game was not designated as the home squad in at least half the games or if it was a one-game event that took place outside the league’s television umbrella.
Translation: "We don't like it unless there is exposure and money. If the exposure and money are there, DO IT."
While Delany cautioned schools to work with the conference before finalizing games, he also champions the idea of high-profile football games. Strength-of-schedule is a major component for the four-team College Football Playoff, which debuts this season.
"We know you are trying to create strong non-conference game schedules as we move into the College Football Playoff environment and as we prepare for our next big television negotiation," Delany wrote. "We applaud and very much appreciate your efforts in doing so, as this should create value for your teams and fans as well as for our television partners and, therefore, for all Conference members. But please keep in mind the above policies that are important to all of us as we share collectively in the revenue generated by our televised games."
Translation: "Seriously guys, do it. But only for exposure and money."
So the Big Ten is behind the idea. And at this point Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin (i.e. half the conference) have shown they are on board with variations on the theme. Is this a trend that Minnesota can afford to buck?
Where Does Realism Factor In?
There are other elements to consider. For instance, is a series of neutral site games even worth entertaining unless the Gophers are successful for an extended period? After all, the typical Minnesota approach is to schedule for bowls. While that doesn't have to mean cupcakes, it certainly doesn't mean Alabama either. Since at least at this point the focus on neutral site games seems contained to really high end games is this even something we need to think about?
The Bird Killing Elephant In The Room
While the Vikings are going to call TCF Bank Stadium home for the next two seasons, their new digs offer the Gophers an unfortunate quandry...the ability to play a neutral site game right off of campus. At some point (for our own sanity) let's assume the Gophers are winning and maintaining that success to the level where signing a deal with a quality high level non-conference opponent makes sense. If the only way that deal can happen is to move the MN leg of the series a little under 2 miles to the west in the new Vikings Stadium, could the Gophers afford to pass that up? What happens if there is pretty decent but not elite opponent who is willing to play us for a neutral site pair of games and the money beats what the U pulls in at TCF? What then?
Final Thought (aka GET OFF MY LAWN)
I fear that opportunities which could create such questions will continue to grow as time passes. The purist in me wants the whole concept to get the hell of my lawn and go away, but the realist in me knows that's probably not going to happen. And so I'm left to ponder the unthinkable...a game in a stadium that is owned by the Vikings. /shudders