Column: A Corn-Fed Rube’s Rant

If you don't like Big Ten's new logo, just shuck it
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

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.


  1. By abc
    December 17, 2010 at 10:06 am | permalink


    You clearly are a rube. You failed to grasp the subtlety of the design. The word ‘TEN’ below ‘BIG’ is dropped out of the field of color; a clear reference, to those who do not eat corn, to the ten teams from yesteryear that are now missing. Hence the word TEN is also ‘missing’, taking on a ghostly presence in the color and material of whatever the logo is printed on be it turf, wood, fabric, etc. The word TEN is no longer a number, but a memory.

    You also missed the architecture of the logo; a critical theme to fully appreciate the magnitude of the design. BIG sits on a base and rises up as strong block letters. TEN is within the base that BIG is built upon, buried below it.

    This design brilliantly seizes on BIG as the operative and enduring word allowing TEN to morph and change with its medium. Over time the TEN may even go away all together, dissappearing into the BIG’s blue. Pentagram captured the essence of the league, it is BIG. While the TENness of the league might change from time to time certainly the BIGness is forever.

    BTW if Iowa traded places with Wisconsin the divisions could be the ‘Vowels’ and the ‘Consonants’.

  2. December 17, 2010 at 10:27 am | permalink

    One note. Schembechler and Hayes may be the 2nd and 3rd greatest coaches in the Big Ten. There is a guy named Paterno who has earned his stripes. Great article, good laughs, hits the nail on the head!

  3. By Shannon
    December 17, 2010 at 10:57 am | permalink

    Here’s a link to the new look, and a description of why Pentagram thinks its great: [link]

  4. By Rod Johnson
    December 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm | permalink

    I heard this on the radio and thought “Cornhole, John, really? You actually went there?”

  5. December 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    Dear Mr. Johnson,

    I trust you are aware that Cornhole is a game they play at tailgates, wherein they toss bean bags (filled with corn kernels, I imagine) at a tilted board with a hole at the top. Ergo, cornhole — a game played predominantly in the Midwest, just like Euchre.

    For Beguiled, I might go for that — JoePa’s got the most wins, of course, plus two national titles and three Big Ten titles — but Bo and Woody won 13 Big Ten titles each. (Woody also added a handful of national titles, more than Paterno’s two.)

    For ABC, best line of the day: “While the TENness of the league might change from time to time certainly the BIGness is forever.”

    So very very true. And really makes ya think, doesn’t it?

    Thanks to all.


  6. By Stephen Landes
    December 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm | permalink

    I notice two unfortunate aspects to the design team. First, the name Pentagram reminds me of the geometric figure that appears in the palm of a werewolf. From this I gather that the devil made Delany do this. Second, one of the designers is married to an OSU alum — what else would we expect from that quarter?

    The logo, using the link in one of the commenter notes above, is black and blue, so I think the divisions could reasonably be named that way. Of course this brings up the possibility that other colors may claim discrimination and we would be locked in legal proceedings for so long that the the 12 teams could become 14 in that time, obviating the need to resolve this “crisis” altogether.

    We could just settle for The Fellowship of the Ring and the divisions could be Hobbits and Dwarves……..Oh……..I’ve been informed that’s already been done :(

  7. By Rod Johnson
    December 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm | permalink

    Dear Mr. Bacon,

    I trust *you* are aware that “cornhole” has a much longer history as a euphemism for certain acts, and its use as a comic term for the venerable beanbag toss is a relatively recent, risque innovation. I guess in a world where “you suck” and “that blows” are accepted, nothing is too awkward.

    Yours in mock prudishness,

    Mr. Johnson

  8. December 17, 2010 at 6:12 pm | permalink

    Mr. Johnson,

    You have once again made me laugh out loud while I’m supposed to be writing away in a cafe.

    After I received your note a good friend of mine sent me a similar question. And, I confess, only then did I realize I might have a problem. It might be a generational thing, I’m not sure, but most of my peers think first of the game I described, not — um, something else. Otherwise, I would not have paired it with euchre, which would have been even weirder.

    But since I read your message, I have come to realize your interpretation is a lot more common than I had thought. I can assure you, next time I am tempted to cite that game in a piece, I’ll probably think twice, and be a little more careful.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    I might share your mock outrage, but my gratitude is sincere.


  9. By Rod Johnson
    December 17, 2010 at 10:51 pm | permalink

    I hope it’s not a generational thing–that would mean I’m old! But I have to confess, I do have a moment of “did they really say that?” every time it comes up.

  10. By Casey
    December 20, 2010 at 4:32 pm | permalink

    After going to the link provided above by Shannon and reading the Pentagram website it is clear to me that the logo and “Leaders and Legends” nonsense is all just a joke perpetrated by the Big 10.

    How else can you explain the opening sentence that state: “The Big Ten Conference…includes world-class academic institutions such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern, and University of Wisconsin–Madison.”

    Now how often do Ohio State and Michigan State lead the list of “world-class academic institutions” with no mention of the University of Michigan?

    If that isn’t an intentional insult, by the folks at Pentagram, I don’t know what is. My guess is that “Michael Bierut (“husband of 30 years to an Ohio State alumna”) was trying to make some points with his “Buckette” by leading the sentence with OSU and leaving out U of M entirely.

    I believe that this is proof positive that this Big 10 redesign and Pentagram itself is a joke.