The Big Ten is perceived as the old curmudgeon on the college football block by many, and in some ways perception is important.
The Big Ten is looked at as a run-first league without much "SEC speed." When Joe Tiller came with his spread/bubble screen heavy offense to Purdue many years ago, some viewed it like they would if a spaceship landed in their front yard. Rich Rodriguez tried bringing his own spread offense to Michigan, and he was pretty quickly run out of town when it didn't work. Not one Big Ten quarterback was among the FBS' top 27 in passing yards last year. On the other hand, three players had more than 350 rushing attempts in FBS last year, and two were from the Big Ten.
The uniforms remain mostly unchanged. For most teams, a game from 1992 doesn't look much different than a game from 2012 (you can add a joke about Big Ten offenses here). And there's something good about that, but there's a downside too. Tradition might be the name of the game in the Big Ten, but there's a reason Oregon attracts a lot of recruits. Even the entire Legends and Leaders division name debacle was mocked mostly because it seemed like it would fit better in the 1950s. Other conferences are Les and Nick, this one is still Bo and Woody. Tradition is great, but it doesn't always resonate with high-school recruits or students who come out to games.
At least one Big Ten athletic director seems to realize that the conference might need to spice things up a bit to get away from that reputation of being stodgy.
In an ESPN.com story that discussed the Big Ten using more advanced marketing techniques, including enhanced game-day experiences, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis mentioned changing the perception:
"Part of that is to make the league be perceived in reality what it is, and that's a little bit more hip, a little bit more cool," Hollis told ESPN.com.
"It's not your grandfather's conference any more. There's so much greatness and so much tradition that needs to be continued and talked about, but also try to add a little unique freshness that's unique to young kids."
It's a hard mix, considering tradition is deeply rooted in Big Ten country. There has to be a way to make the conference more appealing to younger people while maintaining its history. Or maybe just when someone tries alternate uniforms, to have something that's not an eyesore.
At least the Big Ten seems to be realizing that while the old era was great, a new era would be pretty enticing too.