The next time Big Ten Conference officials and school administrators meet, a prime topic of discussion is expected to focus on the football championship game that will debut in 2011.
The first title game will be played indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and provide the climax to the first season with 12 members — in case you forgot, Nebraska is joining the fun starting in 2011-12 — and two six-team divisions.
What Big Ten officials are trying to decide is how the championship game will evolve after next season. University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez recently outlined the primary questions related to that process.
"Do we need to be inside? Do we need to be in one spot? Do we need to move it around?" he said.
Playing indoors or outside? The league is considering both throughout the Big Ten footprint. Other indoor possibilities include Ford Field in Detroit and the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Possible outdoor sites include Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Soldier Field in Chicago and Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Play in one location or move the game around? During a recent meeting of the UW Athletic Board, chairman Walter Dickey said the Big Ten is looking at the possibility of packaging the championship game with the men's and women's basketball tournaments and assigning them to the same site.
If that happens, Indianapolis and Chicago would figure to get long looks because they've hosted Big Ten basketball tournaments in the past and have prominent football stadiums available.
Alvarez said he hasn't devoted a lot of thought to the those questions, but he's inclined to play the football championship game indoors.
"My initial reaction is (at) that time of year, why roll the dice that you might have a really bad day and affect your crowd and play on the field?" he said. "I would want the best team that we have represent us and I wouldn't want the weather to be a factor.
"I know traditionalists (say) that football's meant to be played outside, but no one said you have to be uncomfortable to play this game. No one has said you have to play in bad conditions when you have the opportunity to play in good conditions.
"That's my first inclination," Alvarez said, "but I'm willing to listen."
Many regard the Big Ten title race a four-team affair. What kind of competition did unbeaten Michigan State and once-beaten UW, Ohio State and Iowa face during their non-conference schedules?
The cumulative record of Michigan State's opponents thus far is 10-19 (.345). UW and Ohio State are at 7-22 (.241) and 12-18 (.400), respectively, while Iowa sits at 12-19 (.387).
None of the non-league opponents for Michigan State and UW has a winning record.
Feeling left out
A good way to measure the quality of a season is the number of times a team has shown up among the Big Ten players of the week.
One end of the spectrum: Michigan State has 11, UW six and Ohio State five.
The other end: Last-place Minnesota has zero.
Game of the week
No. 5 Michigan State at No. 18 Iowa, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 27
If the unbeaten Spartans are going to get knocked off their perch, this would seem to be the last prime moment. The Hawkeyes can vault themselves into the thick of the race with a win knowing they also have once-beaten Ohio State at home Nov. 20. But can Iowa regain its balance after a 31-30 gut-punch loss to the Badgers at home last week?