Let’s get one thing straight right up front. There are ten (10) teams in the Big Ten. Ten. This is how God intends it to be.
Ten teams. Nine from major public universities in the Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin); the other from Northwestern, a major private university in the Midwest. Northwestern has been welcome in the Big Ten for many years because it (a.) ups the academic image of the conference; and (b.) gave teams like Indiana and Minnesota the chance to win at least one conference football game each year. In recent years the purple-clad Wildcats have rebelled against this latter qualification and have become gridiron respectable, but they are nice people, so we let them stick around.Besides, their men’s basketball team hasn’t made March Madness since Naismith put up the peach baskets in Springfield.
That’s it. The Big Ten. Ten schools. Ten teams. Makes sense. Constituted that way in 1917, and lasted for many happy years.
But back in 1989 things got looney. The Powers That Be decided expansion was in order, and Penn State became part of the Big Ten. Now notice that it was still called “the Big Ten,” even though there were eleven teams in it. I have to admit, “The Big Eleven” lacks poetic flair. Then a couple years ago, Nebraska joined, meaning that the Big Ten now had twelve teams. A person might have been tempted to re-name it “the Big Twelve,” but there is already another league called “the Big Twelve,” which, as a matter of fact, has ten members. I had begun secret negotiations with my old friend Earl, who lives in Enid, Oklahoma, for the leagues to trade names. These negotiations were so secret that no university presidents knew of them. But Earl and I were chatting on the Internet one night, after we had both had a couple of cold brews, and this seemed like a good idea. However, it seems our discussions were premature.
Now, you see, Maryland and Rutgers are joining the Big Ten, meaning that the Big Ten will have fourteen (14) members. And I will be the first to admit that “The Big Fourteen” has no more poetic flair than “The Big Eleven” did. Besides, how is poor Northwestern going to feel now, in a league with thirteen public universities? Northwestern will be like Michele Bachmann at a Gay Pride parade. There are even rumors that North Carolina is considering joining up.
This is completely unreasonable and contrary to natural law. It’s bad enough that the league now has two divisions, the Legends and the Leaders. Bring in a few more teams and we can add a Lepidopterists Division and a Leotards Division. I mean—what’s next? The University of Maine? The University of Idaho? Shucks, why not go for Oxford and Cambridge, even though those folks don’t know what real football (three yards and a cloud of dust) is?
I spent many happy working years in an institution that reveres tradition. Within that institution I was always a maverick, one who thought of most traditions as more negative than positive, millstones around the neck that kept us from being all we could be. In most of life, I am no fan of tradition.
But when it comes to something as important as the Big Ten, I will go to the barricades in defense of the Big Ten the way God intended it to be. Ten teams. It will be a sad day when the Big Ten features a match-up between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Rhode Island Rams in a battle for third place in the Lepidopterists Division.