Four years ago, on Nov. 1, 2017, it was officially announced that Indianapolis would host the 2022 College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship. As we all know, a lot can happen in four years.
Along with a fantastic, well-oiled team, there are two particularly noteworthy women who have worked together to bring the championship game weekend to the Circle City: Susan Baughman, President of the 2022 College Football Playoff—Indianapolis Host Committee, and Stephanie Cassel, Vice President of Community Engagement.
In the years between winning the bid and planning the event, which is estimated to host more than 100,000 visitors in downtown Indianapolis from Jan. 8-10, 2022, Baughman and Cassel have worked together to help plan a series of memorable events for guests to enjoy and remember for years to come. “We hope to create an incredibly unique experience for everyone involved,” Baughman explained.
Here’s how these Mavens planned one of the city’s biggest events of the year, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
THE WOMEN BEHIND IT ALL
Both Baughman and Cassel have rich histories working in sports. Baughman’s first job after graduating from Indiana University was with the 1991 World’s Gymnastics Team at the RCA Dome, followed by an esteemed role at Indiana Sports Corp for more than 20 years before she was asked to lead the 2022 Indianapolis Host Committee.
As for Cassel, she was originally pursuing a career in education, but after she secured an internship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she ended up spending seven seasons there. “I was in client services, so my role was to help support and bring clients and sponsors in,” Cassel explained. “Once I spent time around all of the excitement, people, and sports, I was hooked.”
Following her stint at the Speedway, Cassel landed an opportunity in football when Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. “As we know in Indy, we reference Super Bowl XLVI as a monumental event on the map,” Cassel said. “Super Bowl Village had never been done before, and after we did it, it certainly put the ball in motion for other host cities to follow.” It was while working in Super Bowl Village that Cassel met Baughman, and the two women hit it off.
After Baughman was selected as the President of the 2022 Indianapolis Host Committee, she asked Cassel to join her team. “Susan and I dreamed that we would work together in some fashion one day,” Cassel explained, “and she reached out to me and shared her vision for this role. I think it was just a perfect fit and really a no-brainer, so it was an easy ‘yes.’”
BRINGING THE CFP TO CIRCLE CITY
Once the bid to bring the CFP National Championship to Indy was successful, Baughman and Cassel got to work bringing to life a series of events and experiences to drum up excitement and bring awareness of the game to the city. “We wanted to create a memorable experience through innovation to surprise people that may have a preconceived notion of our state, and show what creative, talented people we have here and what we have come up with,” Baughman explained.
To that end, the Host Committee hosted a University Speaker Series with stops at Indiana University, Purdue, Butler, and Notre Dame, as well as an “Indiana Tailgate Tour” of local high school football games.
Another unique approach that the Host Committee took was to rebrand the downtown area for the duration of the event. Downtown Indianapolis is going to be transformed into “Championship Campus,” and there are free concerts scheduled on Monument Circle, as well as creative entertainment, food and beverages on Georgia Street, a fanfest, and free access to ESPN’s media day at the convention center. “We want to showcase the city to visitors as a beautiful place to live, work, and play,” Baughman said.
The CFP National Championship will also give Lucas Oil Stadium the chance to show off why it’s ranked as one of the best stadiums by football fanatics nationwide.
We want to showcase the city to visitors as a beautiful place to live, work, and play.
WHAT ELSE TO EXPECT
To better cater to a variety of visitors, not just football connoisseurs, the CFP National Championship will boast various non-football related attractions as well. On Jan. 9, 2022, the city will host the Extra Yard 5K, which will take runners through the heart of downtown Indianapolis.
Another CFP signature event will be AT&T Playoff Playlist Live!, which is currently scheduled to feature Doja Cat, AJR, Twenty One Pilots, and Ava Max.
Taste of the Championship, held on Jan. 9, 2022, at the Indiana State Museum, is a fundraising event where attendees can indulge in gourmet food and drinks prepared by local chefs. Proceeds from both the Taste of the Championship and the 5K will benefit teachers in the state of Indiana through the College Football Playoff (CFP) Foundation, with the goal of rewarding, acknowledging, and providing resources for teachers.
WHAT ABOUT COVID-19?
As one might imagine, with COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, safety is at the top of the list of concerns. At the time that this article went live, the CFP National Championship is currently slated to be at full capacity, including all of the outdoor concerts.
“Obviously, it’s on everybody’s minds, and we are going to have a weekly conversation with the mayor’s office and the Marion County Health Department,” Baughman said. “If required, or we need to adjust, we will, and we will do our best to be prepared.”
At the end of the day, both Baughman and Cassel hope that the memory of the event lives on long after the last touchdown is scored. Cassel explained: “This is a one day football game, but what we really do isn’t just about football. We want to try and execute a flawless event and an unforgettable fan experience, but we also want this to be a lasting legacy in the community. In my opinion, sport is the biggest platform in the world for making a difference in the community.”
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor who still regrets not going to Super Bowl XLVI.
All of our content—including this article—is completely free. However, we’d love if you would please consider supporting our journalism with an Indy Maven membership.