Friday, August 28, 2009

Final Four Friday: Neutral Site Games

It’s almost game time for MSU football, which means it’s time to return to a TOSSS tradition of Final Four Friday! Today, we’re looking at the option for MSU to play in an NFL stadium for a “neutral site game”.

Penn State and Indiana have set an example for the rest of the Big Ten, as Indiana moved its 2010 home tie with the Nittany Lions to FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. There are benefits aplenty for both schools – Penn State getting essentially an extra home game while Indiana hauls in $2 million more in gate receipts – so why can’t Michigan State have a part of that action?

We already know the university would consider it. The MSU-Western game this year was supposed to be held in Detroit at Ford Field, and the Florida Atlantic return game will either be at Ford Field, Chicago’s Soldier Field or Miami’s Land Shark Stadium.

Not counting FAU, here is our Final Four of possible destinations that make sense for both MSU and the opponent.

Soldier Field, Chicago – Illinois

While the Illini may have the occasional good year – and under Ron Zook they’ll get more and more of them – it’s no secret that they can’t sell out their own stadium. Memorial Stadium only seats about 62,000, and at 61,500, Soldier Field is about the same size.

But this time, it would sell out.

MSU’s largest alumni base outside of Michigan is in Chicago, about 20,000 strong. Illinois’ largest alumni base full top is in Chicago. You’d better believe they’d pack every seat in that stadium for what would be the most raucous “home” game the Illini would have all year.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis – Indiana

Indiana’s already going to D.C., may as well make the shorter trip to Indy, right? MSU has a great tradition in Indianapolis, including the men’s basketball 2000 national championship and the 2005 women’s team’s run to the Final Four – including the program’s biggest-ever win in the semifinals over Tennessee.

This wouldn’t be as much of a home game for MSU as facing the Illini in Chicago, but the game would definitely sell out. That’s a win-win in my book.

Ford Field, Detroit – Eastern Michigan

The Eagles don’t host MSU until either 2018 or 2020, and you can mark down my prediction right now that this game won’t be played in Rynearson Stadium. Go ahead, mark it down.

For one, that stadium only holds 30,200 fans. For two, well, that stadium only holds 30,200 fans.

There are two other stadiums Eastern could move that game to with no difficulty and guarantee a sellout. One is the Big House in Ann Arbor. The other is Ford Field in Detroit. And I doubt very much that the good folks at Michigan will want an MSU home game in their building.

Ford Field makes sense for the Eagles. A 60,000+ crowd at home would triple – yes, triple – their average attendance. The tickets would be pricier. There are luxury boxes galore that would sell out fast. Do the math and it’s not hard to envision Eastern getting more money out of this one game than the rest of their games combined.

Cowboys Stadium, Dallas – Baylor

OK, so this one might seem like a reach given that we don’t play Baylor, but hear me out.

That is a football team on the rise, a little like Cal and Rutgers were earlier this decade. What they need are marquee opponents willing to do home-and-home deals to really establish themselves in what is a hotbed of football. Enter MSU, a team that historically loves to play that sort of role.

Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium seats 50,000. Cowboys Stadium seats 80,000. Waco to Dallas is an hour and a half drive. A big-time opponent like MSU in the Bears’ biggest in-state home base outside Waco is a match made in heaven. Plus, MSU gets a chance to head down to the fertile Texas recruiting base to meet and greet a few 16 and 17-year-old future phenoms. It’d be great.

And the winner is – Soldier Field.

It has been the dream of MSU's long-suffering Chicago alums for far too long. It's time to make it happen.

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