This spring the Big Ten Conference added Nebraska, giving the league 12 teams.
So, what do you do – change the name to the Big 12? No, because that name’s already taken by another conference – which, naturally, now has 10 teams. So the Big Ten decided to keep its name – and change everything else, starting with the logo.
Now, to handle all this, they could ask some corn-fed rubes like you and your cronies, but you would probably do something silly like draw on the Big Ten’s unparalleled 115-year history and come up with something simple, honest, and authentic. Or you might just pay some art student a hundred bucks to make a new logo, like Nike did years ago, to create some swoosh-looking thing. It was so embarrassingly bad they got rid of it as soon as they could, which is why you’ve probably never seen it.
And that just won’t do, you mouth-breathing Midwesterner. Why, you probably don’t even use “networking” as a verb. You disgust me.
No, what you’ve got to do is lay yourself at the mercy of high-priced international image consultants – the kind of “branding experts” who cover the euro currency with geometrically perfect structures that never existed and name the streets of our finer subdivisions after purely abstract concepts, which are as suitable for your municipality as they are for Mars – and let them tell you what you’re supposed to like.
And, thank God, that is exactly what the Big Ten did!
The conference hired the high-priced international image consultants of Pentagram Design – a “multi-disciplinary design firm with offices worldwide,” whose “culture of interchange…adds tremendous value to all creative thinking,” and whose website offers English, Español and something called “Deutsch,” whatever that is. For slightly less than the salary of a college president, Pentagram Design put their best people on this urgent assignment – and, after months of experimenting in their dust-free labs, their seven-person Project Team emerged from their undisclosed location to give us the solution: put the word BIG over the word TEN.
Pretty catchy, huh? It’s the kind of cutting edge, “outside-the-paradigm” thinking we Hot Pocket-huffing hicks could never have come up with on our own. I can’t speak for you, but I sleep a little easier knowing we helped subsidize this expensive effort through tax breaks for the nonprofit Big Ten and its member institutions.
Many fans thought they might try to sneak the number 12 into the logo, the same way they squeezed the number 11 around the T in Ten, after Penn State joined the league 17 years ago. You know, to give some indication of how many teams are now actually in the league.
No, the high-priced international image consultants of Pentagram Design – whose “core competencies” apparently include “futurizing” – realized the league might expand again, so they didn’t want to chain themselves to a number that might become outdated. That’s why they decided to chain themselves to a number that is already outdated. Timeless!
The new logo turns the I in BIG into a 1 – following me so far? – and makes the G look like a zero. Get it? One? Zero? Put ‘em together, and what do you get? That’s right: 10!
So, right below the number 10, you see the word TEN. And that way, you can never forget how many teams were in the Big Ten from 1953 to 1992.
As the Consultant Class says: Ten is the new twelve.
The color they picked for this avant-garde logo is a shade of light blue, but uglier, somehow – which might explain why not one of the 12 Big Ten teams has ever put that color on their uniforms. Sure, it costs a little more, but they assure us we’ll all soon agree that it’s worth every euro.
Having come up with the perfect logo, it was time for the Big Ten’s braintrust to work its magic on the new division names.
Now you, being an American-car driving moron, might have come up with such prosaic titles as East and West, or maybe Lakes and Plains. Perhaps even Schembechler and Hayes, in honor of two actual human beings who also happened to be the league’s two greatest coaches.
Well, that just shows what you know, Gomer. The People Who Know Better didn’t name the divisions after boring old geographical features or deceased people, but famous words: “Legends” and “Leaders.”
I myself am not a high-priced international image consulting firm, like Pentagram Design. I don’t have an international office to speak of, I have yet to instill a culture of interchange that adds tremendous value to all creative thinking (but I’m working on it), and I do not have a seven-person Project Team. I am only one person, armed with just a pen, a few cocktail napkins and, currently, a couple cans of cold Bud. So this is all I could muster, division name-wise:
Rustbelt and Flyover.
Euchre and Cornhole.
Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch.
“Takin’ ‘Em One At a Time” and “Just Trying to Help the Team.”
And finally, “Lack of Institutional Control” and “Violation of Team Rules.”
So you can see the Big Ten was right to stick to its own names, which set up countless wonderful possibilities. Thanks to them, you could be a leader in the Legends Division, for example, or one day become a legend in the Leaders Division. Or a leader in the Leaders, or a legend in the Legends – or you could play for Indiana, and be celebrated for your Legendary Lack of Leadership at All Levels.
After cleverly naming the divisions for nothing and nobody, they created 18 trophies, and named them after everybody. That’s right. If you ever played or coached Big Ten football, or know of someone who did, chances are good you’re one of the 36 legends – or leaders? I can’t recall – honored on these awards. Two per trophy. This ensures every conference school has several hundred former players on some hardware somewhere.
Because, after all, the whole point of giving out trophies is not to recognize individual achievement, but to assert that no one’s better than anyone else, and everyone’s great – and so is every school they ever attended. Provided it’s one of the 12 Big Ten schools, anyway. Everyone else, of course, sucks beyond measure.
And that’s what makes all 12 Big Ten schools, and everyone who has ever played for them, is playing for them now, or might one day play for them, True Leaders. And Legends. Really, Legendary Leaders.
If you’re like me, you can only hope the high-priced international image consultants of Pentagram Design take the next step, and declare every conference member an Institution of Unequaled Excellence – and rename them all after popular shampoos. It’s called “branding,” you hayseed.
I, for one, think that would be great. But what do I know? I just live here.
Pass the corn.
About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism; and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio.