- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last weekend's Big Ten championship game marked the end of an era.
No, we’re not talking about Ohio State's winning streak. It was the closing of the first chapter of division alignment in the Big Ten. And you know what that means: Goodbye, Legends and Leaders.
(Go ahead and grab a hankie. We'll wait).
OK, the truth is that hardly anyone is going to miss those haughty division names. The Big Ten decided to scrap the three-year alignment and names after adding Maryland and Rutgers, with commissioner Jim Delany saying in January that "obviously, we got some acceptance [with Legends and Leaders], but not as much as we would have liked."
The league opened itself up to several easy jokes with those names, and it also suffered from unfortunate timing. The two most prominent teams in the Leaders (Ohio State and Penn State) did not show a lot of leadership by getting themselves embroiled in scandal and landing on probation. The two schools most befitting of legendary status in the Legends (Michigan and Nebraska) didn't win a Big Ten title during the three-year span.
The "Building Leaders, Honoring Legends" motto made for a decent slogan, but as I always argued, division names aren't really an ideal marketing opportunity. The league put itself in a bind by not aligning along geographic lines and therefore not creating easy solutions for what to call the divisions.
That all changes in 2014, when the conference will split into simple East and West groupings. There will no longer be confusion as to which teams are on what side. The division names are boring and predictable instead of billboards. Thankfully.
Proponents of Legends and Leaders always said people would get used to the names over time, and I suppose that was true. We didn't hear too many cracks about the divisions this season, and it started to feel more a little more natural to say and write those monikers.
The league's goal was to promote balance, and that worked out pretty well. The Leaders won two Big Ten titles thanks to Wisconsin's back-to-back championships, while Michigan State gave the Legends its first win last weekend. That could have easily gone 2-1 the other way if not for a wild finish in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. The Leaders might have been a little stronger at the top this year with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but the Legends was deeper.
The Big Ten must hope for similar balance in the East/West alignment, especially with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State all in the East. The West has Wisconsin and Nebraska but needs teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota to make pushes for division titles.
There wasn't much signage promoting Legends and Leaders last week in Indianapolis as the league seemed ready to move past those names. They may wind up as merely a footnote to history, something future college football fans can discover in record books and chuckle over.
But for now, so long Legends and Leaders. We won't have you to kick around anymore.