Take a Number: Counting the Conference Way
Now that we’re well into the football season, have you figured out where your alma mater is?
With all the shuffling and reshuffling of institutions within the realms of major college football and basketball conferences, many alumni are justifiably confused about just what leagues their favorite teams belong to these days. Understandably, they want to know where they should go for the next tailgate shindig.
Take the University of Nebraska, for instance. That is those mighty men of Lincoln who were once called Cornhuskers and are now known only as Huskers.
Starting in 1907 Nebraska was a member of the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, then the Big Six Conference, the Big Seven Conference, the Big Eight Conference, and eventually a member of the Big 12 Conference when it was formed in 1996.
But last year Nebraska dropped out of the Big 12 and joined the Big Ten Conference, a move that increased the Big Ten enrollment to a dozen teams.
Not only did Nebraska increase the size of the improperly named conference of Midwestern universities, it helped create a similar misnomer for the Big 12 Conference when it left that league.
The Universities of Colorado and Missouri jumped ship from the Big 12 also, cutting that league’s total to nine. But West Virginia University left the Big East Conference to join the Big 12 and get that group’s number up to 10, a couple short of the dozen its name implies.
You got all this straight now? It is really simple. It’s just that according to some universities in this country, 12 is equal to 10 and vice versa. But that’s higher ed for you.
Anyway, what do they care? Can you balance your checking account every month? So don’t complain if 10 is 12 or 16 or 100.
The Big Ten outfit has never really cared about calling out the correct numbers.
Back in 1940 when the University of Chicago, a charter member of that conference, dropped out of the league, the Big Ten kept that name for the next 13 years despite having only nine teams. Then Michigan State joined up in 1953.
Back to 10 teams, the appropriately named Big Ten was appropriately named for another 40 years until Penn State became the 11th member in 1993. The conference remained the Big Ten.
Not Your Father’s Math …
Then, when Nebraska joined up, there were and still are 12 teams. All of those dozen universities are said to have math departments which, when I went to college, were responsible for the classes where one was taught, among other things, just how to count. But that was many, many years ago, and things have changed in math. Some of us old-timers may count differently than today’s young folks.
But when the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996 from a joining of the former Big Eight and some old Southwest Conference teams, that league had the proper dozen. But not anymore, as you subtract three and add just one. That amounts to settling on 10 while the league maintains the name of Big 12 Conference.
Only some professors could come up with this stuff and sell it as being correct. It’s sort of similar to going to a supermarket for a box of cereal and buying the same size box as in the past. But the contents of that box are 75 percent of what used to be in the box. There is a lot of empty air in these boxes — and conferences — nowadays.
But it is encouraging to know that the Pac-12 Conference knows how to count the old-fashion way. Once it was the Pac-10 Conference. Two teams were added last year and even without assistance from their math departments, those athletic department guys knew enough to call the new alignment the Pac-12 Conference.
… Nor His Geography
However, let’s not go overboard congratulating the Pac-12 on all aspects of the name, because it seems those dozen schools have something of a geography problem in naming their conference.
The Universities of Colorado and Utah are roughly 1,000 and 700 miles, respectively, from the Pacific Ocean, which gives the geographic part of the name to the Pac-12 Conference. Maybe the Pac-12 folks are just waiting for the North American tectonic plate to slide underneath the Pacific tectonic plate, or vice versa, and thus put Utah and Colorado on the Pacific shoreline. But that will take a while.
If you think that is confusing for the alumni of Pac-12 schools, take a look at the new alignment of the Big East Conference. At least this group is thinking of changing its name to fit the moves. But as of today, it is still the Big East Conference.
Temple University is a Philadelphia institution that spent 14 years in the Big East until 2004, when it moved to the Mid-American Conference. The Owls decided to fly back into the Big East fold this year. No problem here since Philadelphia, at last look, is truly an Eastern city.
But Eastern is hardly a word you would use to describe five of the six teams that will be joining the Big East next year. The most notable geographic misfits in the bunch are San Diego State and Boise State.
Last time I looked, San Diego was home to a huge Navy base on Southern California’s Pacific Coast. Boise State, with its blue gridiron, may be east of Seattle and Walla Walla, but it is west of almost everything else in the lower 48.
San Diego State and Boise State are so far from Rhode Island, it is difficult imagining the Providence Friars’ volleyball team heading out to compete in Idaho or Southern California.
The other additions to the Big East are at least east of California and Idaho. But one hardly thinks of Southern Methodist University (SMU) from Dallas, the University of Houston or the University of Memphis as eastern institutions. Yet these three schools plus Central Florida are headed for the Big East in 2013.
A Far Reach
Maybe the Big East, with thoughts of changing its name, would think of renaming the league the Big Far and Wide Conference.
The Big East was sort of forced to reach out far and wide in order to gather in as many football and basketball schools as possible because Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh are leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013. Added to the loss of West Virginia, the Big East needed a boost from wherever it could find one.
The Big East added Notre Dame, Louisville and Cincinnati a few years back, giving notice it had problems with geography some time ago. But the restless keep shifting about. Notre Dame is moving to join the Atlantic Coast Conference next year in all sports except football, the primary sport that the Irish continue to maintain as their time-honored independent entity.
Some folks have laughed at the idea of Notre Dame joining up with an organization that seems attached to the Atlantic Ocean — the famed Atlantic Coast Conference. After all, South Bend, Ind., is approximately 750 miles from the shores of the Atlantic.
But what team in the ACC is on that coast, anyway?
Only Sarah Palin could stand on a back porch in Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, Atlanta, Charlottesville or Blacksburg and claim to see the breakers of the mighty Atlantic splashing on the coast.
Obviously, college professors and administrators have been having difficulty coming up with truth in advertising when naming their money-grabbing conferences ever since those leagues were invented decades ago.
All alumni are warned to make sure you know how far you have to travel to tailgate at your team’s next football game.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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