So it's been 24 hours since the news broke that the Indiana Hoosiers will play a home game against Penn State in Fed-Ex field in Washington D.C. And the general consensus is that everyone, except for Penn State fans, is pretty ticked off about it.
Bill Lynch is a good company man, so it will be interesting to see if or how he puts a positive spin on this. Whatever he says in public, this must be a kick in the teeth to Lynch and his staff. Again, actions speak louder than words. Glass has strongly supported Lynch publicly, but selling a game like this is not something an athletic director would do if he expects to be competing for a bowl berth in that season. This move implies that Glass expects 2010 to be yet another rebuilding year. Maybe it will be. Maybe that's a safe bet. But what if the program does make some progress, and does win 6 or 7 games this year? That means that in 2010, when trying to take advantage of a strong 2009, Lynch and his team would be trying to do so with a schedule that includes only three Big Ten home games.
"The Big Ten should shoot this down, and do it soon. This is the I-A equivalent of forfeiting a conference game so you can get paid by Michigan. Insert some bylaw that says any attempt to move a conference home game out of state or to a point that's closer to the nominal road team than the home team must be approved by the league first, and look very sternly at the Indiana administration when you do."
I must say that if I were an Indiana Hoosier fan I would be hurt by this too. If my athletic department took one of the marquee home games on the schedule and moved it 600 miles away to the opponent's back yard, I think I'd be pretty mad. In the short term, this stinks for Hoosier fans. But let's get some things clear.
First of all, there is a perception out there that Indiana "sold a home game to Penn State". This is not a Penn State home game. Yes, it's nearby. But Indiana is getting $3 million for this game. Penn State gets the usual cut for a conference road game. It's a competitive advantage, yes, but on the financial end of things Indiana is getting the benefit and then some of a regular home game.
Oh, and as for the Big Ten stepping in and calling a stop to this? Keep dreaming.
Glass acknowledged economics played a significant factor in Indiana's interest in the proposal. When Glass approached Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany with the idea, he said Delany advised him on certain contractual elements. As part of the finalized deal, the Redskins will pay the full amount owed to Indiana prior to the game being played and the Hoosiers must sell 7,000 tickets.
Seems like Delany was in on this from the ground level. So much for the Big Ten stepping in.
And let's point out another fact in Penn State's defense here. Columbus is near Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is near Evanston, East Lansing, and West Lafayette. West Lafayette is near Bloomington. Madison is near Champaign. My point here is that most Big Ten schools have a nice setup where it's easy for fans to travel with their team throughout the season. And schools can count on visiting fans to fill up their stadium during their down years. But Penn State, as we are constantly reminded by the Big Ten purists, is not a good geographical fit for the conference. It's over 330 miles and five-and-a-half hours by car to get from State College to the nearest Big Ten School. So we get a little excited when we get a chance to see our team on the road without having to fork over money for air fare and hotels.
Penn State travels well, and probably still would have sent 10,000 people to help fill Indiana's 50,000 seat stadium. But there would still be some empty seats. By moving the game to Washington D.C., Indiana assures a sellout. And instead of selling tickets for $25 a pop they can sell them for $50 or more, and they get the added bonus of parking fees and concession sales which will be heavily fueled by alcohol; something they could never do in Bloomington.
The other thing I keep hearing is that this gives Penn State a competitive advantage in the Big Ten title race. C'mon. Really? Does anyone think Indiana and Penn State were going to be playing for the Big Ten championship next year? Does anyone really think Penn State stands a chance of losing to Indiana even if the game is played on the moon and Joe Paterno forgets to pack the oxygen masks? Please spare me the talk about the Hoosiers only losing the last two games in Bloomington by an average of 4.5 points. The 2007 Indiana team was their first bowl eligible team in a hundred years. This is no longer Terry Hoeppner's team. And the 2004 Penn State team was one of the worst offenses in the Joe Paterno era. And we still won. In fact, Penn State has never...NEVER...lost to Indiana. So let's not pretend that this game is tipping the balance of power in the Big Ten.
The fact of the matter is this was a brilliant move by Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass. He is tasked with the job of making sure Indiana Hoosier sports are competitive, but he also has to balance the books. He doesn't have the luxury of selling club boxes for $85,000 each. Tripling your income by moving one game you were probably going to lose anyway is a no-brainer for him. While Indiana fans local to Bloomington are justifiably upset about missing a chance to see one of the premier Big Ten programs come to town, in the long run they should applaud their athletic director for seeking out innovative ways to even the financial playing field with the conference's bigger teams.
And the other schools of the Big Ten crying foul need to pipe down. You're just jealous because Indiana didn't pick your school to play in an NFL stadium. The conference as a whole benefits from exposure to the D.C. area. Indiana will be able to provide a much larger share to the conference coffers than if the game were held in Bloomington. And as a conference there are times when we need to boost up the lower programs by encouraging them to think outside the box rather than insist they compete with the economic disadvantages they are given. I think we can all agree the Big Ten is down right now in the eyes of the national media. The less competitve programs of the conference have to be encouraged and supported in trying to make themselves better.