Where Big Ten fans wanted something conventional, like “East” and “West” but thought “Plains” and “Lakes” might be the logical conclusion in a divisional format where the layout is not strictly geographic, the Big Ten got cute. That is why we have “Legends” and “Leaders”, names so corporately contrived that they may have just been taken from the conference rooms at your nearest airport Marriott. The divisions are as follows:
- LEGENDS: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern
- LEADERS: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
To be clear, the Big Ten was screwed no matter what it did with division names. This follows because the Big Ten eschewed a normal, natural grouping of a west/east Illinois/Indiana split from the very start, threatening to ship Penn State out west or split Ohio State and Michigan. It ultimately settled on the latter, creating divisions where Ohio State and the two Michigans are separate, Illinois was divorced from Nerdwestern, and where Wisconsin is weirdly on an island to itself (losing its annual series with Iowa and one with Nebraska). It announced this artificial division of Big Ten teams and did not name it from the very start, instead settling on “X Division” and “O Division” placeholders. When the announcement came with a potential naming date within a month, the Big Ten immediately handicapped itself. No labeling would be sufficient as none followed to immediately orient the Big Ten fan (and general consumer of college football) with the new setup. The Big Ten was wrong no matter what it did with division names. So, the Big Ten decided to go for broke with “Legends” and “Leaders”, leaving me to wonder if “Believe in Your Dreams” and “Reach for the Stars” somehow missed the final cut in the decision-making process.
You know these are ridiculous labels a priori when you can’t justify why one is a “Legend” and the other is a “Leader”. What makes Penn State (or, Joe Paterno, qua Penn State) a “Leader” and not a “Legend”? What is the difference between them? If it avoided a natural labeling device like East/West, or even one with regional cache like Lakes/Plains or Rust/Dust Belt, then it should be apparent to all why one is one and not the other. It is not. You could switch the labels, making the east-ish division the “Legends” division and we would still be asking the same questions. The problem with the Big Ten’s divisional format is multifaceted. It created an artificial division, daring Big Ten fans and college football fans in general to try to remember who belonged to what division. It did not follow that announcement with the labels it wanted, instead punting that issue into the near future. Finally, when the division names are announced, Delany signed off on something so silly that any bowl fiasco upcoming (like the 1-win campaign in 2008) will seem like good news. The problem with the divisional format the Big Ten announced is that it dared fans to try to remember what was different from what they thought was logically coherent. Even as fans will start to piece together that the Michigans are with Minnesota and Nebraska (but not Wisconsin and Ohio State), they’ll now have to ask themselves “are they Legends or Leaders?”
Even worse, you know what idiotic wordplay is going to follow this, especially as the Big Ten announced that Fox (oh boy) will be broadcasting the Big Ten Championship Game. So, expect to hear Thom Brennaman or one of those other dorks Fox has begin the Championship Game with, say, “Legendary leader Joe Paterno will lead the Leaders Champion…” or “Bo Pelini will try to add to the legend of Nebraska as the Legends Champion Cornhuskers are lead into battle against the Leaders Champion Buckeyes.” I’m not sure we’re going to live this down.
The Big Ten also announced a buttload of new trophies, all with hyphenated names to share the wealth around the conference’s tradition. Of interest to Buckeye fans, the Grange-Griffin Trophy will be given to the MVP of the Big Ten Championship Game. The Graham-George Award will be given to the conference’s offensive player of the year. It’s an award that will sit well with most Ohioans, named after the legendary (see, now I’m doing it) Browns QB Otto Graham and Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. The offensive lineman of the year will get the Rimington-Pace Award that, in name cache alone, surpasses any hardware given in the college football award circuit. The Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year was partly named after our Assassin. The Hayes-Schembechler Award will go to the coach of the year.