“How many teams are in the Big Ten now,” she asked?
I had to think a minute before answering: “Fourteen.”
That bit of numerical craziness somehow seems fitting. The relative sanity that once prevailed in college football is vanishing rapidly as the almighty dollar lures institution officials to forsake the last remnants of tradition and stop pretending they are sponsoring amateur teams primarily to benefit students.
But then, Big Ten conference membership often has been a bit bizarre. After starting with seven schools in 1896, the conference quickly grew to include ten midwestern universities and gain the name that became official years later. However,
was kicked out in 1907 for violating rules. So the Big Ten had only nine
functioning members until the Wolverines returned from exile in 1917.
, a powerhouse throughout
the early days of college football, was a charter member of the conference. But
the Maroons’ gridiron program fell on hard times in the 1930s, and the school dropped
football in 1939. University
Robert Hutchings, the
president, said years later in an interview for Sports Illustrated, “The
university believed that it should devote itself to education, research and scholarship.”
What a novel thought! An educational institution should focus on academics.
The Big Ten numbered nine for the next ten years. Several attempts to add Notre Dame failed, although the school was a national football power whose
South Bend, Indiana,
location was smack in the midsection of the Midwest.
Rumors had it that the Irish wanted in, but several rival schools kept them out.
Instead, Big Ten schools voted to actually become ten again in 1949 by adding to their ranks. Michigan State
Perhaps in a “tit for tat” action, the Notre Dame trustees said no in 1999 when Big Ten officials tried to negotiate a deal to add the Irish to the lineup.
The tensome held for a long time, but ultimately the administrators just couldn’t resist making sense into nonsense. In 1993 they added
to the conference. That not only again
disrupted the namesake math, but it stretched the definition of “ Penn State Midwest” beyond reason. In a feeble bow to tradition,
conference commanders voted to keep the Big Ten name, but alter the logo to
include a semi-hidden “11” in their emblem.
The “little 11” logo lasted only until 2011, when Nebraska became the 12th Big Ten
|Ten that is eleven didn't last. Would The Big Something be appropriate?|
University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez recently said, “We’ve come up with a thinking that we want to be national, we want to have to play at least two bowl games in Florida, we want to play in Texas, we want to play in the desert (Arizona) and we want to play in California. Also
we can spread our brand nationally.”
Sounds more like a corporate marketing exec than an educational institution official, doesn’t he? Alvarez is not alone.
Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said, “This (adding
Maryland and Rutgers)
creates new opportunities to be where our alums and donors are.” His comments
came in a discussion about entering more television markets. The Big Ten now
has its own network. After the 2012 season, the conference paid each school
$25.7 million as its share of television loot, most of it earned by
selling ads through its own network.
The expansion frenzy is far from over. In public statements, Michigan AD Dave
strongly hinted at more growth. That probably will mean
going to 16 teams in two eight-team divisions. It’s looking more like a
professional league alignment all the time.
Sorry sports fans. I can still work up a little rah-rah spirit at the prospect of a traditional Wisconsin-Minnesota game or a
contest, but Rutgers vs. Nebraska
leaves me cold. Count me out. I’ll concentrate on backing the Green Bay
Packers. At least they don’t deny being professionals who want to rake in more
dollars by promoting their “brand.”