With the Impending Death of Big Ten Divisions, a Walk Down Memory Lane is Warranted

By Johnny Ginter on May 27, 2022 at 10:10 am
Jim Delany and friend

I was there, friends. Eons ago, watching, wondering.

The Great Realignment Armageddon was complete, and out of that college football Ragnarok emerged a new order. A time that would usher in an unprecedented era of Big Ten sports glory, which would force the entire nation to stop and take notice. An age that included the mighty, uh, Nebraska, to be followed in subsequent years by the equally relevant Maryland and Rutgers.

Anyway, with this new age and the new Big Ten Championship Game, came the necessity for new names. Names for trophies, names for awards, and most notably, names for the new divisions. I was of the opinion then that the longer Jim Delany and company thought about it, the greater the chance that we'd end up with something abjectly stupid.

And lo: stupidity!

As for the new division names, they are "Legends" and "Leaders".  And no, that is not a joke. The Buckeyes will play in the Leaders Division along with Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. [...]

The division names were met with universal scorn on Twitter and will surely be hammered by the national press in the coming days and rightfully so. This is what happens when you overthink something, folks.

Universal scorn is maybe laying it on a tad thick, but reaction to "Legends" and "Leaders" was both immediate and overwhelmingly negative. Twitter (the rightful arbiter of whether something is Good or Bad) blew up, and some even say that it was the most tweeted-about event in the history of the platform, before or since. I don't say that because it's a lie that I made up, but for the nascent college football social media scene, it was both funny and felt like a Big Deal.

Then-Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany almost immediately walked back the incredibly positive remarks he had made upon the announcement of the new names, saying this just a few days after the initial announcement:

"I think we have enough experience with names, and expansion and development of divisions, to know that you never, rarely, get 90 percent approval rating," Delany said during the interview. "But to get a 90 percent non-approval rating was, you know, really surprising."

That was a level of candor and reflection that we usually give people with power a decent amount of credit for showing publicly, but on the other hand I'm not sure how impressed we should be with someone for thinking "huh, maybe I'm wrong?" after days of thousands of people screaming at them that they're dumb.

Regardless, eventually "Legends" and "Leaders" went the way of the Dodo, except that the Dodo's premature extinction was hastened by imperialist Europeans and the dumb names for the Big Ten's divisions were made extinct by mean internet comments. By 2014 they were gone, and we all moved on to making fun of other dumb things that the Big Ten was doing.

And now, in 2022, it is becoming evident that the Big Ten will undergo another transformation.

Football divisions might soon be a thing of the past, and while I don't know that doing this would cause the calculus of the College Football Playoff to change much in favor of the Big Ten, I also don't think that the worst fears of Ohio State fans, at least will come to fruition either. The Buckeyes will remain the dominant force in the conference for the foreseeable future, and the chance of back-to-back games against Michigan is fairly slim (only a handful of times in the last 25 years would have there been a rematch between the two teams in a title game). 

The real question becomes: is the Big Ten under Kevin Warren as sensitive to the attitudes of fans and online discourse as it was over a decade ago? What kinds of moves and changes can they push, and would there be significant enough pushback from fans to change their approach?

My gut says probably not. "Legends" and "Leaders" seems quaint in 2022; both the naming and the idea that the names of divisions was enough to whip people up into an indignant frenzy. NIL, the real elephant in the room, feels more monumental than whatever deck chair on the Titanic represents how conferences make up their regular season football schedules.

Still, change is interesting, and doubly so if it is silly, weird, tone-deaf, or otherwise dumb. While Kevin Warren and company are probably looking to avoid the kind of pushback the conference got in 2010, part of me can't help but hope that as the Big Ten figures out what college football is going to look like, they manage to promote it in a way that pisses everyone off in the funniest way possible.

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