The Little Eleven

Hey delusional (and aren't you all?) devotees of the Big Ten, how much do I love to cheapshot your favorite conference? Let me count the ways...

It's an average football conference. One NCAA championship in thirty-years-plus? Niiiiiiice. Don't go on about how the Big Ten's tough schedule wears teams out during the regular season. It's a shoddy argument, you know it, and other tough championship-winning conferences don't use it.

I will grant you that the Big Ten is a good basketball conference, mostly because I don't know much about hoops. (Except that it should be like hockey and only allow one time-out per game.) But Big Ten teams consistently lose games in which they are favored in early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. And that messes up my board every year in the hoops pool. And I don't need more help in the messing-up area. Indiana? Damn chokers. Purdue? Damn chokers. It gets to the point where I tend to pick against highly-favored Big Ten teams just because of the conference's hands-around-neck reputation, and then pay the price.

Although it calls itself the "Big Ten" it has eleven teams. Maybe the clowns who run this conference can't count past ten. Regardless, the University of Minnesota finished eleventh in the Big Ten in football this past season - just attempt to do the math. Ski-U-Mah!

The ten or eleven football teams who make up this conference have long-standing rivalries where they battle for trophies that likely wouldn't wow your typical fifth-grade flag football player. The Little Brown Jug ... The Paul Bunyan Trophy ... Paul Bunyan's Axe (it's a different one, really) ... The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk ... The Old Oaken Bucket. How corny can you get? Then again, if you're used to not competing for a national title, Floyd of Rosedale eventually has to look appealing.

Some misguided fans of the Big Ten That Somehow Has Eleven are under the notion that Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State should form a Big Ten hockey conference. My favorite humorist, Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman, harps on this point any time that Minnesota loses in hockey to a small school like the University of North Dakota or Colorado College. Would great hockey schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin want to leave the most storied conference in college hockey - the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) - to join a new (for hockey) conference? Not likely - WCHA teams are expected to compete for NCAA titles, not Paul Bunyan's Boxer Shorts*. And trust me - real college hockey fans aren't clamoring for any Minnesota vs. Penn State or Wisconsin vs. Indiana puck showdowns any time soon.

And lastly, reason numero uno why I mock the Big Ten: Regional TV coverage for football. Fall after fall, season after season, I miss two or three classic games from across the country due to a couple of teams battling for the Land Grant Trophy. This year I missed Oklahoma vs. Texas because here in Big Ten Country we were stuck with Illinois vs. Penn State. Or maybe it was Michigan State vs. Purdue. Or was it Indiana vs. Iowa? It gets confusing and all the matchups consistently underwhelm into one big blur.

This season, the BCS screwed things up so much that three or four teams may still be able to stake a claim to a national championship. And the Big Ten didn't even make it into the Top Four. Will you Big Ten fans be watching the Fiesta or Rose Bowls? You'll likely be exhausted after slugging your way through watching Big Ten teams in the Alamo, Sun, Silicon Valley (huh?), Outback, Citrus, and Sugar Bowls. Watching six of your teams compete in meaningless bowl games during the holiday season? That is one tough Big Ten schedule - for the viewer.

* Fans of smaller non-WCHA schools also take the WCHA for granted. North Dakota State University fans continually tell me that eventually their hockey program (which now only exists at the club level) will go Division I and "then join the WCHA." Like all it takes to join college hockey's toughest conference is a completed application and a check for twenty bucks.

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