Friday, April 23, 2010

Identity Crisis

With Big Ten expansion looking like a mere formality, what would the Big Ten call a new 16-team mega-conference? Keeping the “Big Ten” name when Penn State was added brought enough ridicule. With the addition of five more schools, the name “Big Ten” opens up the conference to quite the public relations embarrassment. There’s a pizza joint down the street from my house called, “Belly Buster’s.” I never eat there because I can’t get past the name. I feel guilty enough as it is eating pizza. I have to suspend my understanding of nutrition and the human body for the five minutes it takes me to eat a large pizza or otherwise I’d never be able to put such an insane amount of calories in my body at one time. With a name like Belly Buster’s, it’s literally impossible for me to forget that I’m doing serious damage to my body while decreasing the number of minutes I have on Earth in the process. Although it seems catchy in theory, the name absolutely kills this place and I’m sure it keeps people from eating there. The Big Ten won’t exactly have difficulty making money regardless of what it calls itself. It could be called “The Big Worst” and not lose a cent. However, Jim Delany is ultra-sensitive about the conference’s reputation as evidenced by his awesome letter defending the Big Ten against the SEC in the perception battle. So, trust me when I say that being widely lampooned for having a 16-team conference called the “Big Ten” will get under Delany’s skin. Like Belly Buster’s, the first thing anyone will think about when they think of the Big Ten is how ridiculous the name is. So, Delany has two options: 1). Change the name to something that makes sense, or 2). Keep the name and find a new significance for the number “10.”

Ever since last December when the news broke that the Big Ten was going to look into expansion, message boards and fan forums have been littered with ideas for new names for a 16-team conference. Unfortunately, it’s a fruitless endeavor. A new name is out of the question. The Big Ten isn’t just an athletic conference; it’s a brand. It’s a brand that has, among other things, its own TV station worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Perhaps even more than the individual universities that make up the conference, the name “Big Ten” is the most visible attribute the conference has to offer especially after the creation of the “Big Ten Network.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that the conference is stuck with a contradictory name. The key could be to find a new meaning for “10.”

My first thought was to look at the number of states in the conference instead of “teams.” If Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are among the additions, then the end result will likely be 16 members across 11 states. In that scenario, the Big Ten can just claim that instead of having 11 members, it now has 11 states with no name change necessary. However, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh would both have to be involved for that scenario to work.

Another idea—and this isn’t a slam dunk by any means—is to associate “10” with the largest markets in the Big Ten region. To be fair, the only reason the conference is even looking at expansion is to significantly increase revenue. So it would only seem fitting to incorporate the Big Ten’s motives for expansion as the new interpretation of the “Big Ten.” It’s impossible to know exactly which markets are going to end up in the conference because we don’t know which schools, if any, are coming to the conference. As it stands right now, however, the Big Ten region boasts 7 of the top 25 markets in the country according to the DMA rankings…

It’s not unreasonable to think that three additional markets among the top 25 could be delivered via expansion. Depending on which schools get invites, we could see New York City, Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Kansas City or a number of Texas markets enter the mix. Either way, it’s likely that the Big Ten will have either 10 of the top 20 markets or 10 of the top 25 making for a fairly convenient explanation for remaining the “Big Ten.” Owning “markets” might sound a bit trivial but it’s important to remember this whole expansion conversation is about reaching new markets. The SEC only has three of the top 25 markets. So having 10 is no small feat and is certainly worth acknowledging.

Otherwise, I’m all out of ideas. A name change isn’t a realistic option. The name itself is a brand and brands don’t just change names. I could see something like “Big Ten +” or a derivative there of but it would make everyone’s job a lot easier if there was a convenient, built-in reason to continue calling it the “Big Ten.” At the very least, it would save everyone from having to read another sweet letter from Jim Delany in 2015 explaining that it’s “not nice” to make fun of conferences with contradictory names.

1 comment:

J.R. Ewing said...

I'm secretly hoping the Big 10 takes Mizzou, then the Big XII also loses Colorado to the Pac 10, thus the Big 10 will have 12 teams, and the Big 12 will have 10 teams. Of course the Pac 10 will also not have 10 teams at that point.

Lesson learned, 100 years ago when these conferences formed...better to take the regional approach (Atlantic Coast, Southeast) than call out your number in the name.


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