By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) It was a bad idea in the first place.
Now, it’s a truly embarrassing one.
And in light of the despicable child sex abuse scandal that’s eviscerated Penn State University this week, coming fast on the heels of the shameful memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal that rocked the Ohio State football program earlier this year, the Big Ten Conference sorely needs to take another look at the names it bestowed upon its football divisions.
And then throw the things on the scrap heap.
After all, “Legends” and “Leaders” was always an awkward and pretentious fit for the Big Ten. But now, it’s simply no fit at all.
Because, remind me again, are Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and the Nittany Lions supposed to be “Leaders,” or should we still remember them as “Legends”? And where exactly do we slot those Jim Tressel-less Ohio State Buckeyes?
I can’t tell.
Last December, when the Big Ten confused the entire country by announcing divisional names that might as well have been called “Enigmatic” and “Vague,” conference commissioner Jim Delany attempted to clarify by offering up this canned explanation:
“‘Legends’ is a nod to our history and to the people associated with our schools who are widely recognized as legends – student-athletes, coaches, alumni and faculty,” Delany said. “ ‘Leaders’ looks to the future as we remain committed to fostering leaders, the student-athletes who are encouraged to lead in their own way for the rest of their lives, in their families, in their communities and in their chosen professions.
“We’re proud of our many legends and even prouder of our member institutions that develop future leaders every day.”
One year and two epic scandals later, I’d imagine the Big Ten is less proud. You know, by just a tad. I’m quite certain its fans are.
Last December, as the criticism of the divisional names continued to mount, Delany acknowledged “Legends” and “Leaders” as the lead balloons they’d become, and made it sound as if the conference would be open to adopting new ones.
“I don’t think you make a judgment in 48 hours or 72 hours,” he 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.”
The time for a change might not have been that day nearly a year ago. But, given 11 months of hindsight and embarrassing developments, today is.
The Big Ten needs to dump the names. For one thing, more than two months into the season, I can’t even remember which division is which – they sound almost exactly the same – and have to look it up to remind myself every time.
For the record, both PSU and OSU are both supposed to be “Leaders.”
Beyond that, though, if you’re going to preach about your conference members being “Leaders,” you first need to make sure they practice it. And if you’re going to honor your schools as “Legends,” you need to be sure that they’ve earned that. Right now, the Big Ten deserves neither of those accolades.
So dump the names, Delany. Pick something simpler that doesn’t double as a punchline and simply makes more sense. And while you’re at it, drop all those silly hyphenated names off the Big Ten’s postseason awards, too.
You can start with Joe Paterno’s.
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. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.