Monday, June 7, 2010

The Big Ten and Midwestern Identity

Being an Ohio State grad and a Midwesterner at heart, I tend to agree that the identity of the Big Ten is at risk if expansion goes beyond its Midwest confines. However, in the minds of the Big Ten commissioners, the financial jewels are elsewhere. Texas, Rutgers and Connecticut are prime markets, Missouri and Nebraska, not so much.

The battle to keep the Big Ten at 10 is lost, but a few rules should guide any expansion. If your students can harvest oysters without leaving the state, you are not a Big Ten school. If they can leave class and be standing in a cornfield within 20 minutes, you are.

Does summer smell like salt water? Out. Is it fragrant with cow manure? In. Mountains and beaches? Let's think about this. Flat vistas that go on longer than the Academy Awards telecast? Now we're talking.

The University of Missouri is located in a state that had slavery, which is not a Midwestern thing, but it stayed in the Union, which is. Lots of people in Iowa and Illinois already feel an affinity because they root for the St. Louis Cardinals and share the Mississippi River.

Nebraska and Iowa State? Their athletes wouldn't need cultural orientation classes to prepare for trips to West Lafayette, Ind. Notre Dame, as everyone else knows, is a Big Ten school that just refuses to accept its obvious destiny.

In the end, there is something inseparable between the conference and the region where it grew up, and we tinker with it at our peril. So my advice to university presidents: If your students are happy to be called Midwesterners, you belong in the Big Ten. If they would take it as an affront, look elsewhere.

Read "Steve Chapman's The Big Ten and Midwestern Identity" here.

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