- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Can Legends stand the test of time? Will Leaders fall by the wayside?
The Big Ten's division names, which have been subject to mocking and ridicule since the day they were announced, might be on their last legs. Commissioner Jim Delany has said the conference will re-evaluate those division names this offseason.
That's one of the agenda items for league athletic directors as they meet several times in the next few months to decide on key issues for the 2014 season and beyond. Just don't expect division names to dominate the discussion.
"The names of the divisions are probably the lowest on my priority list," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told ESPN.com. "The name to me is so much less important than getting it right geographically and competitively."
The athletic directors will spend far more time debating division alignment, scheduling and bowl lineups. But they know that Legends and Leaders need to go on the examination table, too.
“I just don’t think we can be tone-deaf to what the fans are saying," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "I think it’s gotten a little bit better, but I still don’t think fans have completely bought into it. We’re running some research on that, and we’ve asked them different things with polls and Facebook and Twitter. ... If we made a mistake with the names of the divisions or people don’t like how they were categorized before, I think you’ve got to listen to people.”
Most league athletic directors interviewed by ESPN.com said their fans haven't exactly been demanding division name changes lately.
"When the Leaders and Legends were first announced, people were like, 'What the heck does that mean?'" said Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner. "I think people are starting to learn it, though. … I don't hear much from fans writing in and saying, 'You've got to change the names now,' or anything like that."
Some ADs, like Barta and Purdue's Morgan Burke, say they actually like the Leaders and Legends monikers.
"First of all, I don't really care [about division names], so it wasn't going to get me emotionally charged one way or another," Burke said. "But I do think there was something symbolic about Leaders and Legends. Since I'm kind of a history buff, for me being able to showcase some of those legends that were part of history, that wasn't all that bad.
"But for some people, it drove them crazy."
And that, ultimately, may be the driving force to change the names. Leaders and Legends may have brought more negative attention than positive branding. With geography likely to be the biggest factor behind division alignment this time around, the Big Ten has an easy potential solution.
"Certainly, if we decide to go geographic and it becomes first and foremost in how we approach, you have to give strong consideration to going to a more traditional branding of the divisions," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. "Because they’d have a more logical geographic split. ... Sometimes you don’t get a second chance with decisions you make, but this is one where we’re really going to start with a clean sheet of paper.”
No one would be in an uproar over new division names like "East" and "West." Complications arise if re-alignment does not result from simple geography. Then the Big Ten would be back to where it was in 2011, when names like Great Plains/Great Lakes and Bo/Woody were tossed around but ultimately discarded.
"I'm not smart enough to come up with names that would ultimately satisfy our large, diverse constituency," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "So I'm not a guy who believes that every brand name has to be perfect. I care more about what's inside it."
Once the Big Ten figures out which teams will play where, the conference can decide what to call those divisions. Who knows? Maybe Legends and Leaders will stick around.
"You can keep it the same, because I personally like Legends and Leaders," Iowa's Barta said. "But it was never intended to make anybody mad or create a distraction."
3hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward