At the center of the swirling carnival lights of rumors relating to Big Ten expansion are five essential questions:
- To expand or not to expand?
- If yes, then how many teams?
- What team/(s)?
- How do we set up the new league from a scheduling standpoint?
- And finally, what do we call the new and improved entity?
Today I'll focus on what I regard as the easiest of these pillars, the question of whether our namesake needs an update. The answer is no.
Our current competitive anemia notwithstanding, the Big Ten remains major college football's oldest and most storied consortium. We've won more championships, over more decades, made more money, and enjoyed more fan support than any conference in the FBS, and we've done it while maintaining an academic pedigree that is sine qua non.
The Big Ten Conference is Division 1-A college football's Ivy League. Sure, we're stogy, dusty, and conservative -- but we're still the gold standard, and our name is power. We shouldn't let our brand be diluted by constantly re-casting it to accommodate change. The Big Ten has been the Big Ten for ninety-two years -- when its name was changed from the Big Nine to reflect the re-signing of Michigan in 1917.
We were "Big" First: Or Imitation as the highest form of flattery
In a comparably short period, the Pac 10 has changed its name four times. (It was the Athletic Association of Western Universities at its founding in 1959 then became the Big Five, Big Six, and Pacific 8, before finally changing to its present namesake in 1978). While the ACC, Big East, and Big Twelve have never changed names, the later two have been playing football for less than 20 years.
The SEC is the only conference with similar historical branding. It was founded in 1932, and has kept its identity for three-quarters of a century despite expanding from 10 to 12 members in 1991. Like the Big Ten, the SEC understands the importance of tradition and excellence across generations.
In the same way we didn't change our name when Penn State became our eleventh member in 1991, we shouldn't waiver when we expand to twelve or more teams in the near future. Sure, our title contains a numerical qualifier. The "Ten" in Ten will forever pay homage to the original members, like the thirteen stripes on the American flag. It's the best way to maintain the historical cohesion of our brand for the future.
Just as the Ivy League wouldn't change its name if it added a member who didn't have ivy-covered buildings on its campus, when the Big Ten expands it should stay the Big Ten.