By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) From the get-go, the names fit like a small-sized helmet on an XL-sized head. Awkwardly. And now, it’s time for the Big Ten to send “Legends” and “Leaders” on their way. Mercifully.
In perhaps the best sports news of 2013 thus far, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on Monday revealed that his league is finally considering replacing its much-maligned division names. The only bad news is that any potential changes won’t come until 2014, although a decision could be made by June.
“It’s on the table,” Delany told ESPN.com.
OK. So, let’s get the thing set.
As you may recall, following expansion, the Big Ten in December 2010 decided to confuse its fans – and the country – when it announced divisional names with meanings so unclear they might as well have been called “Enigmatic” and “Vague.”
As the criticism mounted, Delany tried to clarify the names, saying: “‘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. ‘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.”
Those explanations were as canned as Nebraska corn, and Delany added: “We’re proud of our many legends and even prouder of our member institutions that develop future leaders every day.”
Two scandals later – one an ink-stained mess at Ohio State that cost Jim Tressel his job, the other a far uglier one at Penn State that brought down Joe Paterno – the Big Ten was likely less proud. I’m quite certain its fans were. And as a result of the league’s black eyes, the Big Ten’s division names devolved from silly into stupid.
This week, Delany sounded like a man who knows that, even if he still doesn’t want to fully acknowledge it in a public forum.
“I don’t take umbrage to negative reaction,” he said. “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.”
It doesn’t need to be. But the names should be up for vote soon. And then should be voted into retirement. After all, more than two years after launching “Legends” and “Leaders,” I still struggle to remember which division is which. They sound almost exactly the same.
Delany said this week that the Big Ten wasn’t going to go with “Bo or Woody,” “Black or Blue,” or “Plains or Lakes” as the divisional names. He also said the league won’t use geographic names if the updated divisions – with new members Maryland and Rutgers included – aren’t split geographically.
Well, my advice is to make the divisions geographic and just go with “East” and “West.” If not, I’ve also always been partial to “Black” and “Blue,” even if Delany isn’t. But whatever the Big Ten does decide upon, it needs to do be sure that its new division names are much simpler than “Legends” and “Leaders.”
And that they don’t double as punchlines.
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. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.