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Ben Smith

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Big Ten needs to sack lame names

I don’t know which esteemed and much-sought-after marketing genius came up with the names for the Big Ten’s new football divisions. But I have a pretty good idea how the job interview went.

BIG TEN COMMISIONER JIM DELANEY: So, tell us what other projects of this nature you’ve worked on, Esteemed And Much-Sought-After Marketing Genius.

ESTEEMED AND MUCH-SOUGHT-AFTER ETC., ETC.: Well, there was New Coke …

And a few days/weeks/months later, we got “Legends” and “Leaders.”

Which apparently 90 percent of the world thinks is Lame, including large parts of Andorra and the kid who sells you Junior Mints at the local Gigantiplex, with its 52 screens and 20 different showtimes for “Dude, Where’s My Car?”

And so now here was Delaney on WGN Radio in Chicago the other day, saying he was shocked, shocked at the overwhelmingly negative response. Why, 90 percent of any particular group can’t agree on the color of Paul Newman’s eyes (a steely blue, of course). But they all think “Legends” and “Leaders” sounds like something a roomful of twitchy third-graders came up with? In, like, five minutes?

So Delaney said the Big Ten would take a step back and “re-evaluate” the situation.

Good call there, Sparky.

Good call because, listen, not only are “Legends” and “Leaders” generic to the point of being utterly meaningless, they betray a lack of imagination and will that does a disservice to an institution as thick with both as the Big Ten. The Big Ten and its century-plus of glory-shouting mythology deserves better. It deserves better than grade-school alliteration and first-degree copping out.

That’s what this is, after all. A cop- out.

It’s all well and good for Delaney to hem and haw and tell us it wouldn’t be fair to actually get specific about its divisional names, but heaven knows less prominent institutions have cowboyed up and gotten it done. The NHL, once upon a time, plucked names from its history for its divisions, and it had (or seemed to at the time) about 24 of them. Yet the Big Ten can’t pick two?

Allow me, then.

Allow me to throw out the name of Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached two national champions at the University of Chicago when it was in the Big Ten, was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player, and is also a member of the charter class in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He certainly seems worthy. And for the other division, how about Fritz Crisler, who gave the Big Ten two-platoon football and Michigan’s fabled winged helmet, and whom Michigan honors to this day with an “extra” seat in Michigan Stadium?

The guy’s got his own seat in the Big House for all eternity, but he’s not good enough to name a division after? Really?

Fine. So let’s go with the obvious: Schembechler and Hayes.

No one’s going to object because, let’s face it, with all deference to that Johnny-come-lately Joe Paterno, Bo and Woody are football in the Big Ten. No two people have more defined and shaped its character. No two names are more synonymous with it.

The Bo Division. The Woody Division.

Two Legends. Now could we please get a Leader?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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