The next important date in determining the location of the championship will occur Feb. 25 in Indianapolis, according to Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett.
On that date, both finalists to host the game will make their final presentations before the Division I Football Championships Committee, who will then submit their recommendation to the Championships Cabinet.
<strong>Though neither side is willing to show their full hand, the involved parties are known. </strong>
The Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee, along with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, bring a familiar face to the game.
The duo have partnered to host the game since 1997 when current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel led Youngstown State to a 10-9 victory over SLC foe McNeese State.
Since that first game, 223,795 fans have attended the 13 contests that have been held at W. Max Finley Stadium, the home stadium for the UTC football program. That total amounts to an average of 17,215 fans each year.
Though the casual fan might believe that the game has been in Chattanooga for its entire existence, the contest is not accustomed to staying grounded in one site.
Since the first game was hosted in Wichita Falls, Texas - the Division I championship game also has called Orlando, Fla.; Sacramento, Calif.; Charleston, S.C; Tacoma, Wash; Pocatello, Idaho; Statesboro, Ga. and Huntingdon, W.V. as home.
The game's most successful years came when Marshall reached the championship game played in front of its hometown fan base in Huntington, W.Va.
Since the move to Chattanooga, attendance has fluctuated with the most successful attendance coming when either Appalachian State or Georgia Southern have had the opportunity to make the short trek to see their teams.
The attendance fluctuation proves that what the game has failed to do is maintain sustainability as a contest that can routinely fill all 20,668 seats at the stadium.
If teams are not close enough or willing to travel, the stands remain empty as this year's contest proves.
As Montana and Villanova hit the field, only 3,677 of this year's attendees bought the tickets outside of the UTC ticket office.
The game with 14,328 fans in attendance was the lowest since 2003, though it did include a record of 10,651 tickets sold locally. This “locals” record could have been aided with the potential of the game moving elsewhere, because the story has been well-publicized heading into the game.
<strong>Enter Frisco, Texas - home of Pizza Hut Park and the Southland Conference. </strong>
A modern 20,500-seat stadium, Pizza Hut Park was opened in 2005 and serves primarily as the home of FC Dallas, the local entrant in Major League Soccer. The stadium also is home to Frisco ISD football and in 2008, hosted the NCAA Men's College Cup won by Maryland.
Like the Chattanooga effort, the local business organizations actively are involved in the effort.
Joining the SLC are the City of Frisco, the Frisco Economic Development Corp., the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and the Frisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. Pizza Hut Park and the Hunt Sports Group also are part of the group.
Whether other groups and businesses are involved, it's not publicized.
In a request for further details, Burnett stated that, “we are keeping those to ourselves and don't see the need or benefit to ‘revealing our hand’."
<strong>At this point, there are a few points of comparison and contrast. </strong>
One of the biggest discussion points is travel to Chattanooga and Frisco.
For ground travel, Chattanooga is accessible to the fan bases east of the Mississippi River, notably the successful Southern Conference – which includes the aforementioned Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
Frisco does not have a similar advantage. Though well in the footprint of the SLC and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), only the SLC is a customer in the playoff picture.
Through the friendly skies, Frisco is much more accessible.
Pizza Hut Park is 30 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, one of the largest airports in the country and just a few miles less from Love Field, another one of the airports in the vicinity.
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is closer to Finley Stadium, but the airport is limited in the amount of flights in and out on a daily basis. Per its Web site, the only major airports flying into the airport are Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Memphis, Orlando, Washington D.C. and Tampa.
As the game will have more advanced notice in the coming years with the shift in date, more fans will be able to find much more affordable flight deals, especially if the flexibility exists, as it would with Frisco.
<strong>Each of the facilities are relatively new.</strong>
Opened in Oct. 1997, Finley Stadium seats 20,668 and consists of 32 luxury skyboxes and 3,465 preferred seats with chairbacks. The press box can hold 60 media representatives, has three radio booths and one for television.
Owned and operated by the city of Chattanooga, the facility in addition to hosting the UTC Mocs, also is home to Chatanooga FC, the city’s entrant in the National Premier Soccer League – an amateur outfit.
Though we brushed on Pizza Hut Park earlier, the facility has 20 luxury suites, as well as a 6,000-square-foot stadium club.
Part of a much larger complex that could potentially be utilized for special events associated with the championship game, there are 17 regular stadium-quality soccer fields outside of the main stadium.
Other amenities include two video displays and more importantly for the average fan – an open view concession stand that allows fans to actively follow the game while waiting in line.
With entertainment on their mind, the facility also includes a permanent stage infrastructure on the north side of the field that could facilitate a concert before, during halftime or after a game.
<strong>As is the case in any efforts to land a major event, both sides will have to make convincing arguments.</strong>
A good analogy might be to compare NFL kickers in the playoffs to the battle between Frisco and Chattanooga. Neither is a sure bet in to put it through the uprights!
One thing is certain, the decision lies in the hands of Division I Championships Cabinet who will act one way or another on the recommendation of the Division I Football Championships Committee.