By Dave Wischnowsky–
On Feb. 8, 1896 – one month after X-Rays were discovered and nine months before William McKinley was elected as the United States’ 25th president – the Midwest’s premier universities held a powwow in Chicago and established the Big Ten.
It’s the nation’s oldest Division I conference. And, when you factor in its overall athletics and academics – as well as the fact that I graduated from one of its schools (I’m kidding … but just a little) – I think it’s also the nation’s best.
Last week, however, was not the best’s finest.
And, with the cloud of the Big Ten’s ill-advised division names still looming like a storm cloud over the conference, the rest of the month isn’t looking so hot, either.
During the past seven days, I spent plenty of time – and more than a few words – poking fun at the Big Ten’s choice of “Legends” and “Leaders” as its divisional names and the absolute lunacy that conference commissioner Jim Delany & Co. thought people would actually embrace them.
But today, I’m here to be serious.
On Friday, to his credit, Delany humbly acknowledged the lead balloons that “Legends” and “Leaders” clearly are and he made it sound as if the league is open to adopting new ones.
“I don’t think you make a judgment in 48 hours or 72 hours,” Delany said. “Eventually, we’re going to have to address the issue of whether or not it’s sustainable, but I don’t think that’s a decision for today. We have to listen and we have to be humble about the reactions we’ve gotten.”
Right now, on the issue of connecting with its fan base, the Big Ten is turned around worse than a freshman defensive back. It needs help. And as a proud Big Ten alum, as well as guy who thinks he generally has a pretty good idea about what will – and, just as importantly, will not – resonate with Midwestern sports fans, I’m going to try to provide Delany with a little advice.
So, here it is: Jim, don’t overthink this whole thing. You and the rest of the conference’s leaders already did that, and look how it turned out.
Now, here’s some more: Tell the 12 Big Ten members to get over themselves, stop being so provincial about their own petty concerns and focus on settling on something that’s cool (FYI: recruits – and fans – really like cool) for the collective conference identity.
That’s what these names are about: The conference, not its individual schools.
Now, personally, I still think the coolest option available is naming the divisions “Schembechler” and “Hayes” after Michigan’s and Ohio State’s legendary coaches. Bo and Woody represent much more than just the Wolverines and the Buckeyes. Their names embody the rugged identity of what the Big Ten was, and what it continues to be. Even as a University of Illinois grad who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing an Ohio State or Michigan jersey, I know and completely respect that.
But, apparently, the rest of the conference schools do not.
So, as an alternative, my suggestion is to pick something that still represents the same spirit and mentality of Schembechler and Hayes without using their actual names: Call the divisions “Black” and “Blue” and just be done with it.
Yes, I know that on Friday you said even those innocuous names would draw complaints from schools such as Ohio State and Wisconsin whose teams wear red. Well, tell them to get over it and to get on board.
The notion of “Black-and-Blue” has absolutely nothing to do with school colors. Heck, it has nothing to do with colors at all. Rather, it has to do with the idea of bruises and physical play and promoting the Big Ten as the toughest league in the land, all things that the Badgers, Buckeyes and every other conference school should be excited about.
No blue- or black-clad university is going to get a recruiting advantage because a conference division is named after a color their team wears. That’s completely nonsensical. Beyond that, if the colors black and blue are suitable for the official logos of the Big Ten conference and its television network, then they should be suitable for its divisions, too.
So, Jim, my advice is to stop stressing over shades of gray and just go with the solution that’s black-and-white: Pick “Black” and “Blue.”
It’s that simple.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.