What should hurt any graduate of a Big Ten school the most about Monday's revealing of a new logo and the names for the conference's two divisions – Legends and Leaders – is that there's nothing more anathema to the Big Ten spirit than going around dubbing yourself a Legend, Leader or both.
This is what Jim Delany doesn't get. He's just too shrewd by at least half. Kudos to the Old Angry Muppet for becoming the most powerful man in college athletics, for finding ways to bend other leagues to his will even when his teams flounder in BCS bowls.
He realized that he could put crap on television for an average of 22 hours out of every day, but as long as the other two hours were somewhat relevant the widespread, fervent fan base of the conference he runs would put enough pressure on cable companies to carry the network at per-subscriber rates it didn't warrant. Thus, an influx of money. And money wins.
It's merely a happy coincidence that the world has been introduced to companies such as Ro*Tel and Oberto through the Big Ten, or that other companies finally found a place to use their $394.72-a-year advertising budgets – and to do so with the most glorious commercial in the history of suckering people into buying your product because it might get you both food and women. Let us watch:
Ahh. I feel better now. A previously unknown tranquility has washed over me. Reminds me of Odysseus returning to Penelope after his long journey, ready to devour stack after stack of pancakes. Let me not address the issue of Barbasol Man's Wife leaving him a can of the product he'd just carted around the country in massive quantities on the table for him, as if it was something he'd been craving or lacking. That guy looked better with a beard anyway.
As a Penn State grad, I'm noveau Big Ten. I barely feel accepted by my own bratwurst and cheese-chomping brethren. Gotta put in at least 35 years in this league before your school can even start to lurk on the edge of the popular crowd (hiring Rich Rodriguez also means you are not allowed at the cool kids' lunch table). State College, you'll know if you've been there, is Midwestern-ish in as far as it gets cold there. Otherwise, you've got a bunch of Pittsburgh yinzers trying to mingle with kids from Philly. It's as bad as it sounds, but the sandwiches are all very tasty, as they are covered with fries, slaw, whiz or all three.
So it's not difficult to admit that Penn State can't make a claim to "tradition" the way other Big Ten schools can, or that it might not even meet the profile as well as the newest member, Nebraska. But I know this much, because a coach I covered has said it so frequently: when you score a touchdown, you act like you've been there before. You hand the ball to the nearest official and go back to your business. There is no need to draw attention to yourself. It is unsavory to boast.
That concept seemed to define the way the Big Ten acted, long before Joe Paterno and Penn State joined the league early in the 1990s. This isn't to take some fuddy-duddy view on the other conferences, or to stake a claim to superiority; one of the great things about college football is that the conferences do have unique identities, and come bowl season we're often rooting for our Way of Being and Playing Football as much as we are cheering for the players in the uniform bearing the colors of our alma mater.
For a long time, Big Ten fans must have felt fortunate to have Delany – an ACC guy – on their side. It would be difficult to argue that he hasn't done his job exceptionally well; almost every move he has made – from blocking the original BCS to now standing in the way of a playoff – has been aimed at making the conference better in some way. He is always looking out for the Big Ten's best interest, regardless of what that means for other schools. Certainly he feels that the new names align with his goals; he uttered some gobbledygook recently about showing that the pursuit of athletic and academic excellence were truly married in the Big Ten, and that legends become leaders. Or what have you.
On this front, though, Delany has been tone deaf, and as a result of his leadership the marketing people he employs ended up trying too hard. Legends and Leaders won't resonate with anyone, largely because nothing about the name indicates which teams each division should contain. I know for a fact that Penn State has produced both legends and leaders, and that a select few have been both at the same time (yes, I'm talking about John Aniston, the father of Jennifer Aniston). The conference names just needed to be practical, as did the logo, which seemed to go out of its way not to feature a color used by a school in the conference and ended up stealing from North Carolina and Columbia. Same goes with the ridiculously renamed trophies; we get that you couldn't pick just one or two players on each side of the ball because that might cause one school to feel inferior to the others (gee, how would any school feel inferior playing in a conference alongside Michigan, which has the most wins in college football history?) If you couldn't pick one name, you needed to go with no names. Now it just feels like politically correct name dropping.
The Big Ten has gone too far out of its way to use every chance it has to market itself – to remind you of who it is and how great it has been. But if the people in charge truly understood those concepts, they never would have chosen this approach in the first place.