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Words Mean Things

Making Ten Matter In a Hypothetical World

Among the varied criticisms leveled at me in the early years of my career--when I was learning to brief effectively--was to always remember that "words mean things." The clunky and ironic grammar of that phrase aside, exactness and precision in language is a noble goal. Our words having meanings, and the words we choose convey a multitude of intricacies and exactitudes.

Somewhere along the way, Jim Delany eschewed precise diction in favor of adding Fat Sandwiches and crabcakes...and corn....and supposedly good ice the B1G menu. Before we knew what was happening, our beloved gang of ten eleven twelve had swollen to a portly fourteen. Money and eyeballs won the day. Thanks, Jimbo.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, a hypothetical scenario: the jackbooted grammar police take a break from their duties correcting internet forums and suddenly appear at B1G headquarters, billy clubs in one hand and Elements of Style in the other. Their demand is simple: fix this naming debacle.

The syntaxial strong-arm squad leaves the bejowled Grand Poobah of the B1G with but two options...

1. Trim the comference to back to ten teams

2. Rename the conference altogether.

Delany is understandably befuddled, as he clearly thought he was going to get away with "Big Ten" in perpetuity. How might the patriarch of endless expansion handle such a confrontation?

First and Ten...No, Let's Seriously Do Ten Again

Suppose for a moment that not only were the Grammar Police real, but that the B1G could swing a TV deal with ESPN and become a part of the cord-cutting packages that will define sports consumption going forward. That's a fancy way of saying "we'll have some money regardless so we don't need 14 teams." Suspend your TFFL hate for sake of argument, and just imagine that we remain rich.

In the case of trimming back to ten teams, we have some options...

Option 1 - Classic, Hold the Corn.

Sorry, Rutgers and Maryland. It's been a nice first year with you. But you're the new guys at the coal mine. Last to be hired, first to be fired. We have some lovely parting gifts for you in the form of AAC membership berths. That takes us down to twelve. If we're going to with the true American classic burger, PSU and Nebraska also have a pink slip coming. It's hard to let either go--especially PSU--since they're not only big, dedicated football fanbases but in the case of PSU, also a world-class research school. That makes them right up the B1G's alley. But #tradition reigns in the Classic model, and the '90s were a terrible decade anyhow, so Bye, Felicia. This is the easiest route, as we essentially turn back the clock to 1992.

Option 2 - The Bigger the Better.

I've been assured size doesn't matter. Perhaps I'm just deluding myself in the interest of my own self-confidence, but that's neither here nor there. Let's assume for a moment that size kinda does matter. What would a league composed of the 10 biggest schools look like? Well, as with most size contests, it depends how we measure.

If we go by total sports revenue, we get a conference that looks to be essentially what should have happened in the 1990s anyway...

  1. Ohio State
  2. Michigan
  3. Penn State
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Iowa
  6. Michigan State
  7. Minnesota
  8. Nebraska
  9. Illinois
  10. Indiana

Gone are revenue cellar-dwellers Rutgers and Maryland, and Penn State and Nebraska supplant [REDACTED] and Northwestern on the list. NU is not required to report revenue, but 2011 estimates put the till at $48 million before expenses. That puts the Wildcats solidly in the tail-end spot, and thus joining C-USA or something. Out of sight, out of mind. The downside of this model is that our smartest student body is gone...and the new league would have 100% less tarp.

They say money isn't everything. Instead, let's look at the size of the universities themselves.
  1. Ohio State - 57,466
  2. Michigan State - 50,085
  3. Minnesota - 48,308
  4. Indiana - 46,817
  5. Penn State - 45,518
  6. Michigan - 43,625
  7. Illinois - 43,603
  8. Wisconsin - 43,193
  9. Rutgers - 41,565
  10. Purdue - 38,700
  11. Maryland - 37,610
  12. Iowa - 31,387
  13. Nebraska - 25,006
  14. Northwestern - 20,366

Newcomers Maryland and Nebraska and old-timers Iowa and NU are left out in the cold. Though, if Maryland could scrounge up another 1100 students, we could effectively eliminate [REDACTED] and most of the current B1G West with it.

If Rutgers and Illinois are any indication, size and athletic contribution need not go hand in hand. Perhaps another metric has more value.

Option 3 - Hardware.

In the interest of on-field achievement, let's try a league based solely on NCAA titles, including recognized Division I football titles (despite the NCAA technically not counting such titles, because *wet fart noise*).
  1. Penn State (78)
  2. Ohio State (62)
  3. Michigan (56)
  4. Wisconsin (50)
  5. Maryland (40)
  6. Michigan State (34)
  7. Iowa (31)
  8. Nebraska (29)
  9. Minnesota (26)
  10. Indiana (25)
  11. Illinois (23)
  12. Northwestern (8)
  13. Purdue (4)
  14. Rutgers (1)
There's not much more that can be said about that, except that Rutgers really took the fencing world by storm in 1949. Of course, counting championships is hard because of the emergence of new sports, the NCAA's stance on club sports and varsity sports, and the shenanigans inherent in "claimed titles." Nonetheless, the line between the Hoosiers and the Illini is paper then, but the bottom of the league isn't even within shouting distance of the tenth spot in Future B1G.

Option 4 - Moooooo

Because this is still the B1G, we can always default to something cow or tractor related. A conference predicated purely on each state's ability to produce milk (and therefore ice cream) would actually look pretty solid across the board.
  1. Wisconsin (1271)
  2. Penn State (390)
  3. Minnesota (460)
  4. Michigan State (390)
  5. Michigan (390)
  6. Ohio (267)
  7. Iowa (207)
  8. Indiana (178)
  9. Northwestern (94)
  10. Illinois (94)
  11. Nebraska (54)
  12. Maryland (50)
  13. Rutgers (7)

Ice cream is a nice thing, so Illinois is therefore eliminated in favor of Nebraska. What Nebraska lacks in dairy production, they more than make up for in beef production. Our corn-hatted friends might consider changing their mascot, as they're the number two cattle state in America with over 6.3 million heads. [REDACTED] is left off the list completely because engineers don't care about cows. And because cows have delicate ACLs.

The problem is that whatever metric we use, the result would be throwing the dregs out of the B1G. This is still the Midwest, and such rudeness is not in our genes. When once we have opened our homes and shared hotdishes, we are loath to throw even the seediest of guests out into the cold. Trimming may not be the answer. (Oh, and the money aspect can't actually be wished away.)

So what's in a Name?

Let us further assume that we seek to avoid the ignominious fate of our Big XII friends. Bob Bowlsby not only couldn't find 12 actual teams at for his Texas love party, but couldn't even make good on the "One True Champion" promise. We like having a championship game. The annual December tilt gives us life's only reason to go to Indianapolis and affords one more blessed week of Big Ten football. This manner of thinking leaves us but one option...choosing a new name.

This is no small task.

Thanks to Rutgers ans Maryland we can't simply fall back on geography as the Midwestern Conference. Plus that's too close to the Mountain West, which itself is one step above a bowling league. The Big Midwest isn't much better.

We could go the obvious route and simply take an accurate tally of our membership, transitioning to the Big 14. I'll grant that the loss of monosyllabic naming elements is not ideal. Big Ten and Pac 12 just sound better.

There's always the option for something saccharine and noncommittal, like the B

Perhaps history can be our guide. As the B1G stretches from New Jersey to Nebraska and Maryland to Minnesota, our hallowed conference now encompasses the vast majority of the Union states (and those wishy-washy Terps). Given that grizzled Ohioan William Tecumseh Sherman now spends his days overlooking our fine publication, it's only fitting that the old warhorse should get the nod.

I hereby move that Delany rename us the Sherman's March Conference.


Think of all the advantages...

  • We can chant "ESSSS EMMM SEEE" in unison whenever the ESPN patsies down south get uppity. History is a bitch.
  • Failing to shave or dress neatly would be a show of conference pride instead of just the aftermath of Friday night. Our students will automatically have SMC spirit!
  • We already burn things when we win big.
  • OTE shirt sales would skyrocket
  • I'm still pretty high on that first bullet point.
I think we're onto something here. Now if only we could actually get the Grammar Police to show up at Delany's assuredly gauche NJ-style mansion. I bet that guy just loves marble.