And then there were 12? Twelve teams in the increasingly inaccurately named Big Ten, that is. For the 2011 season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will be joining a conference that was already saddled with a misnomer thanks to the addition of Penn State in 1990. In the process, they’ve made college football’s conference names look even more silly, as they left the Big 12 or Big XII (which now has 10 teams) for the Big Ten (which now has 12 teams).
Nomenclature issues aside, though, Nebraska’s admission to the conference may yield immediate benefits for the Big Ten, as they now have enough member schools to form a pair of divisions and hold a conference championship game in football, something that has proven lucrative for other major conferences.
While that benefit is apparent and was an impetus for the conference’s expansion, many around the country are debating the overall merits of the move. For Nebraska fans, players, and coaches it means the loss of decades-old conference rivalries, as well as a transitional period while new rivalries build up.
For the Big Ten, in addition to their conference name making even less sense, they’ve chosen a pair of easy-to-deride conference names; they’ve also messed up some of their existing rivalries, and replaced their current logo and its brilliant use of white space with something that can be mocked for at least seven different reasons.
Minda Haas graduated from Nebraska earlier this year. She’s a diehard Huskers’ fan who also covers the Kansas City Royals and their Triple A affiliate the Omaha Storm Chasers, at Royal Blues. Haas says she felt the initial reaction to the move on campus was more negative than positive, largely due to the ties the Huskers had with other Big XII schools.
“My first Husker game – a huge life event, akin to first kisses and weddings around here – was against Oklahoma, and I will always treasure being immersed in the rivalry that way,” Haas said. “The sense that I got was, we were all comfortable being in the Big XII, and comfortable with the rivalries therein. We loved hating Oklahoma and Texas, and we were good at it. Over time, however, it seems like people started to accept the change, and even get a little excited about it. Hating on Ohio State and Michigan was already a common practice, and it seems like people are getting excited to have a more concrete reason for that hate.”
Fans of remaining Big XII schools share similar sentiments. Ben Coldagelli is a senior studying public relations at Oklahoma, and the historical significance of the move is one of his primary concerns.
“It’s a shame, really,” Coldagelli said. “Oklahoma and Nebraska have an incredibly storied rivalry back when they were members of the Big Eight. The excitement of the match up has been weakened as of late, with being in separate divisions and not playing each other every year, but there is definitely still some tension between the schools … For a school that is so caught up in tradition like Nebraska, I’m really surprised they made this move and threw all of their history out the window.”
Coldagelli also pointed out how much Nebraska and Colorado’s departures may hurt the Big XII (Colorado is joining the Pac-12 this summer). Those losses may go well beyond just losing their conference championship game and the revenue it brought. Given the current strength of the southern teams and weakness of many of the northern teams, those departures could have notable competitive effects as well.
“The most noticeable effect will be for the teams in the Big XII North,” Coldagelli said. “Their only shot at a Big XII title came through the Big XII Championship, plus they’ll now have to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M every year,” he said. “For the teams in the Big XII South, it will be the reverse effect. Instead of getting schools like KU and Iowa State twice every four years, they’ll get to play them every season.”
In Big Ten country, however, the mood is much more optimistic. Ted Glover writes for SB Nation’s Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire. He sees the addition of the Cornhuskers as a great fit with a largely positive impact on the future.
“The move to 12 teams and a conference championship game was long overdue, and in the long run it does nothing but help the conference as a whole.” Glover said. “That said, I didn’t want to see the Big Ten expand just for the sake of expansion, and to their credit, they didn’t. They got a team that is a national player on the football stage, with a national following and traditions that don’t take a backseat to anybody ? Nebraska is a great fit for the conference, the Big Ten is a great fit for Nebraska, and I look forward to them playing in and being a representative of what I consider to be the best conference in America for many years to come.”
The move allows the Big Ten to play later in the season thanks to a conference championship game, but the 12th team also gives them more scheduling possibilities throughout the regular season.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to see some rivalries develop between Nebraska and other Big Ten teams, but it will also allow the conference to play later in the year, show some more marquee games in prime time, and get an extra team into the postseason,” Glover said. “For example, Nebraska and Iowa are slated to meet the Friday after Thanksgiving, and it will be one of only a few college games on that day. That’s great for the conference.”
While opinions are split on the merits of the move, with many Big Ten fans rejoicing the addition of a powerhouse and a championship game and many Big XII fans mourning the loss of historic rivalries, everyone agrees on one thing; the new Big Ten divisions have awful names.
Nebraska joins the Legends division with Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. The Leaders division is comprised of Nebraska’s protected rival Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State.
Coldagelli called the divisions “embarrassingly-named,” and Glover’s analysis wasn’t much kinder.
“They whiffed big time on the divisional names,” he said. “I don’t know one person that likes them, but I don’t see them changing the names to something else, so Legends and Leaders it is.”
Nebraska’s first game as a member of the Big Ten Conference is a home game on Sept. 3, 2011 against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Their first game against a Big Ten opponent is October 1 in Madison, WI, where the Huskers will take on the Wisconsin Badgers.
The jury’s still out on how they will fit in on the field, but they certainly have the potential to bring an interesting new dimension to the conference, even if the Huskers’ move from the 10-team Big 12 to the 12-team Big Ten represents one more reason why college sports should not be used to teach kids math.