The MAC Must Consider a Bowl at the Bears’ New Stadium

A new Bears’ indoor stadium brings new opportunity for the M

Rendering of the Bears’ Domed Soldier Field Proposal
Source: Landmark Development

The times are truly changing. In a surprise turn of events, the Chicago Bears will pursue a new stadium on the lakefront that Soldier Field resides on instead of the Arlington Heights property they bought in 2021. More significantly, the stadium will be an indoor facility. Once the Bears move to their new stadium, Lambeau Field will be the only outdoor stadium in the NFC North.

For years, Detroit has been the mecca of MAC football. Since 1997, the Motor City/Little Caesars and Quick Lane Bowls have been a crowning achievement for MAC schools. Ford Field has hosted the MAC Championship Game since 2004. Another large city in the league's footprint will get an indoor stadium, making it an ideal bowl site. In the past, the idea of fans withstanding three hours of the December cold at Soldier Field prevented a bowl in Chicago, but the new stadium proposal makes much sense.

The MAC would be wise to pursue a bowl game in the Windy City. Seven MAC schools are within four hours of Chicago. Two more are within six hours of the Windy City. Travel would also be convenient for Buffalo and UMass fans flying to one of the country's busiest airports.

Furthermore, a game at the Bears' new, state-of-the-art stadium could attract a Power Four bowl opponent for the MAC. The Big Ten has a tie-in for the Quick Lane Bowl, but it is at the bottom of the Big Ten bowl selection order. Last year's Quick Lane Bowl was the first time a Power Five school played against the MAC in the bowl since 2019 and only the fourth time since 2014.

Another opportunity to play a Power Five school is much needed. The Big 12 and ACC could benefit from associating themselves with a possible Chicago bowl since the Big Ten controls the Windy City, the country's 3rd largest media market. Any exposure to the country's largest markets is crucial as the sport looks headed to a Power Two oligarchy.

A Chicago bowl also provides a logical reward for the MAC's champion. While the Quick Lane Bowl had a Power Four tie-in, it made little sense to invite the MAC's champion or runner-up since it would force their fans to travel to Detroit twice in one month. The MAC champion can receive a Power Five opponent and a game at an NFL stadium without repeating a trip to Detroit.

Additionally, a bowl at the Bears' new stadium would be an attractive destination for Northern Illinois. Surprisingly, Northern Illinois is just as much an outlier as Buffalo is. The Huskies' campus in Dekalb is 344 miles away from Ford Field, over 80 miles further from the stadium than Buffalo's campus if one drives through Canada. Even if someone drives only on US soil from Buffalo, the two campuses are nearly equidistant to Detroit.

Traveling to Detroit has always been challenging for NIU fans. The four lowest non-pandemic MAC Championship Game attendances at Ford Field have involved Northern Illinois. Only Buffalo, Ball State, and Kent State have lower MAC Championship Game attendances than NIU since the game moved to Ford Field. These attendance issues extended to the Quick Lane Bowl. Only the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl between Boston College (705 miles from Detroit) and Maryland (520 miles from Detroit) netted a lower attendance than Northern Illinois' 2017 Quick Lane Bowl appearance.

Northern Illinois fans always show up when they play in Chicago. The Huskies sold out Soldier Field when they played Iowa in 2007 and drew 52,117 in the 2012 rematch at the same venue. Of course, several of those fans were Iowa fans, but it is reasonable to assume Northern Illinois brought at least 20,000 fans each time. A bowl game about an hour away in an NFL stadium is an unmistakable draw for Huskies fans.

With only one school in the Chicago metro area, the MAC can do much to increase its presence in the region. An indoor Bears stadium can substantially benefit the conference. The Windy City has much to offer for the MAC and College football’s postseason.