CHICAGO -- Jim Delany has spent more than two decades as commissioner of the Big Ten, overseeing two conference expansions and the formation of the Big Ten Network.
None of it prepared him for the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the conference's new division names.
Delany said during an interview with WGN AM-720 in Chicago on Thursday that the names Legends and Leaders were picked to highlight the conference's rich history, and that "to a great extent it's fallen on deaf ears." Many fans have instead mocked the names and asked officials to reconsider, which Delany said could happen after the first of the year.
"I think we have enough experience with names, and expansion and development of divisions, to know that you never, rarely, get 90 percent approval rating," Delany said during the interview. "But to get a 90 percent non-approval rating was, you know, really surprising."
The league will be split into two divisions beginning next season, when Nebraska becomes the 12th member. The Huskers will be joined by Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa in the Legends Division. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin will comprise the Leaders Division.
At least, assuming those are still the names by then.
"We want to breathe a little bit," Delany said. "I don't think you make a judgment in 48 hours or 72 hours. Eventually we're going to have to address the issue of whether or not it's sustainable, but I don't think that's an issue for today."
Delany said the conference chose the divisions based on parity, rather than geography, which made naming them East-West or North-South impractical. The Big Ten also considered using names of historic players or coaches, but Delany said that would have been "too limiting."
The commissioner also said there was little consideration given to changing the conference name from the Big Ten, unlike in 1990, when Penn State became the 11th member.
Delany said university faculty, presidents and alumni supported keeping "Big Ten" and that it represents a brand rather than the number of institutions. The name change also would have affected the branding of the Big Ten Network, which launched in 2007.
"It's humbling, to say the least, because we're trying to build fan bases, not push them away," Delany said of the uproar caused by the new division names. "I was surprised. I've been around this business a long time, and it's one of the more surprising things."