Legends and Leaders: What Happened?

20 Sep

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where pitchers win Cy Young Awards and everyday players win MVPs.


The B1G Ten Conference has had a banner year.  It added Nebraska, giving it another football power…and a conference championship game.  Its TV network is easily the best in the world of college athletics, and the model for others to follow.  It’s remained one of the premier college athletic conferences in the nation, and has leveraged that pretty well to promote its academic standing.  But, unfortunately, it also did something that didn’t go over as well:

It named its new conference divisions Legends and Leaders.

I haven’t spoken to anyone who likes these names…and I’m a Big Ten alum and still live in Big Ten country.  The media still pokes jokes at the conference in sports pages across the nation for it.  Granted, change takes a while to take hold…these names could be loved in a few short years.  But at least in the short term, how could a conference that did so many things right get this so wrong?  Let me propose two ways:

–They were too concerned about tradition.  This is absolutely one of the top assets of the Big Ten – from unique trophy games to excellent rivalries, and rabid fan bases to iconic stadiums, the Big Ten can match up with anyone in terms of story and atmosphere.  But I would argue that one of the strengths of this part of the Big Ten brand – and lots of good brands in general – is how it permeates and is just there without you needing to be reminded of it over and over again.  Conference brass didn’t need to specifically call attention to it for it to be there, be noticed and be appreciated…it just went without saying.  But now, because it’s a more explicit part of the conference experience, they’ve seen a backlash from die-hards who think it’s an over-the-top, cheesy move.

–They didn’t do their research.  Any good PR practitioner will tell you that research is one of the hallmarks of any good PR program or organizational decision.  Now, I wasn’t in the room or anything, but did they do any focus groups with these names?  Did they do a survey of their fans and the media to see what they thought, or form any advisory groups to get the opinions of marketing/branding leaders?  Did they interview other conferences that have been in similar situations, and see what worked and what didn’t?  Did they invite the right audiences to participate in these activities?  If they didn’t do any of this, they probably would have seen eyes rolling if they had…and they could have gone another direction.  If they did do them and didn’t execute well or heed the feedback, well…oops. 

The Legends and Leaders will play on, and someone will represent the conference in the Granddaddy itself – the Rose Bowl.  Too bad for the Big Ten that its fans want to toss its division names into another kind of bowl.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Pitt and Syracuse.


One Response to “Legends and Leaders: What Happened?”

  1. jeffshelman (@jeffshelman) 09/20/2011 at 2:18 PM #

    I think part of the problem that the Big Ten also faced was that they seemed extremely opposed to splitting the conference on anything that resembled geographic lines. No East-West, no North-South. Hence, they had to do something else for division names.

    In some ways it is like the ACC’s Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Can you name who is in what division without looking? Me neither. But I did just look and it doesn’t make a bit of sense.Apparently Blacksburg, Virginia is coastal and Clemson, SC (which isn’t near the ocean is Atlantic.

    But I can tell you who is (or was) in the Big 12 North or SEC East or Pac-12 South.

    So while I think the division names are stupid, I don’t think they are the problem. I think the structure of who is in what division is the problem.

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