The Big Ten got an awful lot right in last year's expansion effort, pulling off as seamless a transition to a 12-team, two-division format as anyone could have reasonably. But there was one thing virtually everyone agreed the conference got spectacularly wrong: The bizarre, widely mocked decision to name the new divisions the "Legends" Division and the "Leaders" Division. What is that even supposed to mean?
Within days of introducing the names in December 2010, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany began backing down in the face of a "90 percent non-approval rating," expressing sincere surprise over how poorly the initiative had been received and promising to "revisit" the names at some point in the near future, after they'd had the opportunity to "breath a bit."
That point is today. And as expected, the conference's research discovered that Big Ten fans overwhelmingly… wait, they actually like the names?
According to survey results released to ESPN, yes. In fact, compared to the "90 percent non-approval rating" Delany cited 14 months ago, they kind of love them:
Bottom line: Legends and Leaders will remain through the 2012 football season. Here's the part that will surprise some folks: Many Big Ten fans seem to want it that way.
Of the 516 fans surveyed, 57 percent either liked the division names "somewhat" or "very much." About 35 percent disliked the names somewhat or very much, while only 8 percent were neutral.
The study found that fans warmed up to the names as the season went along and saw them as unique and reflective of Big Ten history.
The shift in opinion came in part by way of education efforts — see the ad at the top of the post, which seemed to win over a lot of people who were initially confused by the names — and in part by way of simple familiarity. The fans who eventually went for the rebranding in the survey liked the fact that (in their words) it "fits the integrity of the conference" and is "not just a representation of whether we're someplace on a map." Earnest souls in that camp easily overwhelmed the skeptics who continued to find the names "silly and pretentious" and "too grandiose" and don't understand why they can't just call the divisions "East" and "West" already. (No word on whether anyone was asked how weird it is that the Big Ten has 12 teams while the Big 12 has ten.)
So the people have spoken, and their deep, abiding respect for vague, intangible concepts has carried the day over the din of the haters. "Legends" and "Leaders" live on. You might as well go ahead and spring for the T-shirt.