By Aidan Wilkins | @wilkins_power
Sports Capital Journalism Program
Downtown Indianapolis is abuzz with the excitement that comes along with hosting the sixth edition of the Big Ten Football Championship game. The University of Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings), from the West Division, will do battle with the Penn State University Nittany Lions (10-2, No. 8), the surprising representatives from the East Division.
Cheers of Badger and Nittany Lion pride echoed throughout Pan Am Plaza in downtown Indianapolis on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay Saturday morning. “We are Penn State!” bellowed the fans, students, and alumni of Penn State. Choruses of “We want Penn State!” roared, as the University of Wisconsin faithful conjured up a reply to their rivals for the weekend.
Every now and then, an Ohio State fan attempted to chime in with an, “O-H” but was not met with an “I-O.” This weekend, the response was boos from Badgers and Nittany Lions.
The Penn State crowd outnumbered the Wisconsin fans, with the sea of white and dark blue being only occasionally interrupted by that of cardinal red and white. This Penn State majority was loud and proud, but let out a raucous jeer when the GameDay panel made their picks for the night’s main attraction, the Big Ten title game.
The panel was almost unanimous in their selection of Wisconsin to bring home the hardware. This was highlighted when Lee Corso, the member whose picks are often most highly anticipated due to his habit of donning the team’s headgear, received the most opposition from the crowd when he placed the Bucky Badger head on his shoulders, signaling that he, too, was selecting Wisconsin. This drew the ire of the white-out crowd, which booed Corso’s selection with great displeasure.
The one exception was this week’s guest panelist, comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who picked Penn State. Key, who earned his Master’s Degree in Fine Arts at Penn State, stuck with his alma mater, which energized the predominantly Penn State crowd, if only for a moment.
The other key attraction prior to kick off is the Big Ten Fan Fest, which is housed in the Indianapolis Convention Center. This event offers fans the ability to relive different aspects of their collegiate experience, through sports. Fans could participate in agility, passing, kicking, and other various football-style drills to see how they would perform, or to compete for glory against the fan of a rival school.
Fan Fest also housed several different Big Ten Network programs, as hosts interviewed former star players for both schools and asked them to reminisce on their time at Wisconsin or Penn State. Both schools also hosted pep rallies at Fan Fest, with their bands and cheerleaders putting on performances that made the Convention Center sound like Madison and State College.