I fear for the day when my son reaches the age where he's old enough to love watching college football, but not old enough to have any sense besides that little kid common sense that slices through all the malarkey like a samurai blade through a lemon meringue pie. Because I know this question is coming.
"Daddy, why does the Big Ten have 12 teams and the Big 12 have 10 teams?"
Hopefully, the leagues will expand -- or contract -- again before I have to explain this numerical conundrum. At this point, I have two options. I can launch into a soliloquy about how Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and then offer him some ice cream to further distract him. Or I can tell him the whole sordid tale and hope he falls asleep.
Because there really is no answer I can offer that won't lead him to the same conclusion: The people who run college sports can't count.
This may sound silly, and lord knows enough hacks in my field have used the whole 10-12 dilemma as a literary crutch, but this is serious. I understand the value of branding. I know the Big Ten name has been around since Fielding Yost outcoached Leonidas at Thermopylae. It evokes a certain image -- be it brats in the parking lot before the game or a stoic coach calling a dive play on third-and-15. I also know the name has been numerically incorrect for 20 years. A conference that is home to some of our nation's finest universities should strive for accuracy.
The Big 12 could use rebranding as well. The league nearly imploded. Even without squeaky wheel Nebraska, its membership puts the func in dysfunctional. It's time to wipe the slate clean. If that wasn't obvious before, it certainly was Tuesday when Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said this: "Big 12. It's a great brand, and we're going to keep moving with that."
No one in the conference should listen to Alden. Missouri officials wanted to leave the most. The Tigers only crawled back after the Big Ten failed to invite them. Texas president Bill Powers was no help either, but at least we learned he's a fan of a certain Minneapolis-raised musical impresario. "Some have talked about The Conference Formerly Known as the Big 12," Powers cracked Tuesday. Not to be outdone, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds chimed in with this: "We'll look for leadership from the Big Ten."
(Notice I have yet to mention the Pac-10, which has added Colorado and will add Utah. In 1978, the Pac-8 added Arizona and Arizona State and changed its name to reflect its membership. I have faith in the folks out west to do the sensible thing this time as well.)
To be fair, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany assumed his league would change its name when Penn State came aboard in 1990, but he was quickly rebuffed by his conference's presidents. "I just thought we'd be the Big 11, and that wasn't the case," Delany said in April. "So I went and found an art teacher at a university and asked him to start playing around with a logo."
Twenty years later, Delany can take the lead on this issue. The simplest solution would be to call Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and offer to trade names. If New York Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich could swap wives and families in December 1972, a 12-team league in the Midwest and a 10-team league in the Heartland can swap monikers. Maybe Delany could even make it like a baseball jersey number-swap and ask Beebe to pay for the rights to the name with 100 cases of Shiner Bock.
Failing that, we're just going to have to come up with some new names for the conferences. Here are a few suggestions.
• ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg suggested the Big Dozen, which is nice, but Dandy Dozen would be better. Of course, that might tick off the sports editors of a lot of southern newspapers who would suddenly need a new name for their all-state football teams.
• The Big Eleven. Hey, being off by one worked for 20 years.
• The Cyberdyne Conference. If the current financial projections are correct, the Big Ten Network will continue to grow until it develops Skynet, which will one day become self-aware and ... I won't spoil the ending for you.
• Bevo and Pals. Because it sounds so much nicer than Texas and the Nine Dwarfs or -- thanks to Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald for this one -- Texas and the Pips.
• Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com offered a fine option with this gem: The Tentative Ten.
• The Heartland Conference. It's perfect. It's also taken. The last thing Beebe and company need is a protracted legal fight against the Division II league that is home to Incarnate Word and Oklahoma Panhandle State.
• The Marriage of Convenience. In less formal parlance, the MC Conference.
I'd welcome any better ideas, but something needs to be done. Inaccurate numerical nomenclature has turned collegiate sports into the laughingstock of the athletic community. It's time the leaders of the offending conferences took action.
We know they can count their money. Now they should prove they can count their member schools.