Wed Jun 15 04:14pm EDT
They've had a little time to grow on us now, but judging from the initial reaction when they were unveiled last December, it's a good bet you still don't care much for the Big Ten's decision to name its new division the "Legends" and "Leaders" divisions for its newly expanded format this fall. In fact, if you happen to be a Big Ten fan, it's a good bet you still hate it with your entire being. And the Big Ten knows you hate it.
But it also spent a lot of money on this rebrand, and as conference commissioner Jim Delany told the Lincoln Journal-Star, is still counting on a little patience and persistence to eventually carry the day. That, and maybe a few lectures by the commissioner himself on how the new names should be properly interpreted:
"A lot of people get a big kick out of Legends and Leaders," Delany said. "Well, we have a lot of legends and we honor those and we want to continue to honor them. That's our past. And on our leadership side, people misinterpret it. They think we're talking about we're the leaders. It's not that all. It's about building leaders. Leadership is not holding a trophy in the air or making All-America. Leadership is about resilience about trying to do the right thing, knowing that there will always be either system or individuals who fail. But getting up off the ground and re-establishing yourself.
"If there's anything I've learned, it's that resilience, getting back to the task at hand and sort of understanding that humans are humans, systems are systems, and leadership is about responding to types of circumstances, not about holding up trophies."
The Big Ten: It's Not About Holding Up Trophies. Now there's a motto even the SEC can get behind. (At least the Journal-Star edited out the beginning of the quote, which Delany undoubtedly began by saying, "Merriam-Webster defines 'Leader' as 'a first principle performer of a group…' ")
Here I am compelled to renew my plea to the commissioner, free of charge: Just go ahead and call the division the "East" and "West" already. No, it's not original or "evocative" of any schmaltzy ideals. And true, technically, they're not aligned that way if you're going by, like, a map. It's close enough. The two Eastern-most schools (Ohio State and Penn State) are already in the same division; call it the "East." And the three Western-most schools (Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska) are already in the same division, along with Michigan, which has always fashioned its teams as the "champions of the West."
The remaining six have been traveling back and forth between their respective campuses for 100 years; they're practically within shouting distance. They can deal with some slightly fudged geography, and their fans will not have to devise a cumbersome nemonic device to remember which teams are in which division. (Almost seven years in, the ACC is still having trouble with the "Atlantic" and "Coastal" thing among casual fans. But the SEC and Big 12 — back when it had divisions — have never had that problem, and once people grasp that Colorado and Utah are in the South, the new Pac-12 won't, either.)
After all, we are talking about a conference with 12 members that still calls itself the "Big Ten." There's no need to split hairs here. Elsewhere, TCU, located in Fort Worth, Texas, is about to join the Big East. San Diego State plays in a conference named for the Rocky Mountains. Auburn plays in the SEC West despite being located slightly further east than Vanderbilt, which plays in the East. (And Vandy seems like exactly the type of school that would really care about that, but it doesn't.) In the NFL, the most colossally successful sporting brand in the universe, the Indianapolis Colts currently play in the AFC South. The NFC was aligned for decades with the Atlanta Falcons in the West Division, the Dallas Cowboys and Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals in the East, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Central, alongside teams from Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minneapolis. No one cares. No one is going to be tested on this.
So I say now, Mr. Delany: Tear down these cheesy division titles! Toss them into the dustbin of history, and embrace the anachronism. I mean, the other anachronism.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.