The Big Ten was stuck on 11 teams for 22 years. When the conference, under the direction of commissioner Jim Delany, brought in Nebraska, the league’s name did not change. But, for the first time ever, the league formed two, six-team divisions.
The divisions were not determined based on geography, so simply going with the standard ‘East’ and ‘West’ was not going to cut it. Instead, the B1G went with ‘Legends’ and ‘Leaders’. The names worked nicely with the conference’s branding slogan, “Honoring legends and building leaders,” but as actual divisions, the monikers have proven confusing and not to the liking of the public at large.
Thus, Delany told Brett McMurphy the names may be changed with the welcoming of both Maryland and Rutgers into the fold before the 2014 football season kicks off.
Currently, the Legends Division consists of Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern; the Leaders Division is Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. When Rutgers and Maryland join, the league will have to decide whether or not to simply slot each of them into a respective division or to redraw the conference map altogether.
Another issue at hand is the fact that, the way Delany sees it, unless there is some sort of geographical demarcation, the conference “didn’t have great options”.
“We weren’t going to go with ‘Bo or Woody,’ ‘Black or Blue,’ or ‘Plains or Lakes,’ ” Delany said. “Obviously we got some acceptance [with Legends and Leaders], but not as much as we would have liked.”
When Delany says that ‘Legends’ and ‘Leaders’ did not garner as much public support as his committee would have liked, he means it. The names have gone through the ringer in the blogosphere, and most are assuming that there will be a name change sometime in the very near future, even though Delany has yet to tip his hand.
But the new names may need to be surveyed by the public a bit more before being circulated nationally.
“I’m not sure it was a national survey [of people who didn't like the names], but people who hit the ‘send’ button,” Delany said. “I don’t take umbrage to negative reaction. I don’t necessarily change when I hear it. I think on the other hand, we said we would test-market it, and we have for a couple of years. We have the opportunity to look at it again. I’m sure we will. Whether or not we change or not is to be determined. I don’t have any presumption that we’ll change on it, but that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at it.
“I don’t think when you try to build something, lead some organization, you don’t want to be tone deaf. But it’s not up for vote every week.”
As mentioned previously, Delany likes how the names lend so easily to branding the league. That being said, there is an opportunity, with the forthcoming additions of two proud East Coast schools, to take a fresh look as not only the names, but absolutely everything pertaining to the Big Ten Conference.
“We have the opportunity to look at the divisional structure, branding, rivalries and geography all again,” Delany said. “Depending on what we do will probably influence exactly how we brand it.
“I honestly think building leaders and honoring legends is relevant whether it’s a branding campaign or divisional names.”
Changes will be forthcoming, but, much to the chagrin of those who utterly hate the names, Delany would make no commitment either way on the name change.
“Whether or not we change division [names], I don’t know,” Delany said. “If [the divisions] are not geographic, we are not going to have geographic names.”
No matter what the names are, one thing is certain: If the entire conference does not up its level of game play on the football field, it will not matter what each division is called — because no one will be paying any attention.