Legends and Leaders, We Hardly Knew Ye
By Tony Gerdeman
Friday night, as the nation was strapped to their televisions watching a Boston manhunt come to a close, ESPN.com attempted to one-up the un-one-uppable by reporting that the Big Ten would be ditching their Legends and Leaders division names, as well as their alignments in 2014.
We can forgive the Big Ten for sliding this huge bit of news under our door since it wasn't entirely of their own doing, especially since we knew that it was going to happen sooner or later anyway.
Had we taken bets on how long "Legends" and "Leaders" would have lasted when they were first announced, I'm not sure any smart money would have been put on anything past five years.
The announcement of the names and logos in December of 2010 brought almost universal panning, and the only good thing that you could say about the entire situation is that no animals were harmed in the naming – aside from all of the pigs who died from lipstick poisoning, of course.
Still, the names grew on me. Mostly because I knew that my complaining wasn't going to change anything in the immediate future.
That doesn't mean I'm sad to see them go, though I think we're all a little miffed that this happened the year we finally got the teams and their respective divisions memorized.
But at least various branding firms were able to keep financial doom out of their offices for a few weeks thanks to the generosity and gullibility of the Big Ten.
ESPN.com is also reporting that the Big Ten will now go to East and West divisions, which was apparently impossible prior to the inclusion of Rutgers and Maryland.
That also means that after all of the money and time spent coming up with the previous division names and alignments, those ideas have been trumped by simply taking a map of the Big Ten schools and folding it in half.
I imagine the consultation with the latest firms went like this: "Everybody on the left of the crease is in the West, and everybody on the right of the crease is in the East. Now please give me my hundreds of thousands of dollars because I have a 9:05 tee time 15 minutes away, which I scheduled immediately after scheduling this meeting for 8:45."
The lineup, as described by ESPN.com (and Rand McNally), would put Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East, and Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin in the West.
At first glance, people seem to think that the East is loaded, while the West appears to be some sort of race between babies with absolutely no sense of direction. I disagree with those people and their hilarious description.
Any division with both Ohio State and Michigan in it is going to be the conference's signature division, but every team in the West is capable of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game. You can't really say the same thing about the East.
This could actually give the Big Ten a chance to build another marquee program, be it re-establishing Nebraska, or allowing Wisconsin to stay in a division hunt every year.
Another advantage for many of these teams in the proposed West division is that it will mean they won't always have automatic losses on their schedule every year. No Ohio State or Michigan most years means more breathing room.
The West could be a division that is wildly up for grabs every single year. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Michigan will likely battle for the East division almost every year.
This could give the Big Ten parity in one division and an annual battle between historical programs in the other. What more could a conference want? Whether you prefer parity or dynasties, the Big Ten will be able to provide you with both.
But the change to directional divisions won't come without a cost. Not only will Legends and Leaders die, but the multitudes of jokes about them will die off as well.
No more, "Legends, eh? I just saw Alabama legendarily kick your ass."
I'm sure we will all miss that wit.
My overall reaction to this, however, is that for once logic and fan interest have won out, while pretentiousness and pomposity have lost.
For me, that's legendary all by itself.
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