At long last, sanity has prevailed.
Three years after they debuted, the Legends and Leaders names for the Big Ten's football divisions are dead. Or rather, they will be -- they're going to linger on for the 2013 season, but come 2014 (and the additions of Rutgers and Maryland), the Big Ten will be kicking them to the curb in favor of East and West as division names. You know: simple, easy-to-remember names that logically and accurately describe the teams within each division. Hallelujah.
Or, if you prefer to look at your divisional alignments in map-form... (H/T The Mexican't)
The weight of historical success certainly rests in the East, with the Ohio State-Michigan-Penn State axis of power, but the West isn't exactly a collection of pushovers. All of those teams except Minneosta have appeared in at least one BCS-caliber bowl over the last 20 years; only four teams in the East can make that claim. The East has 17 appearances in BCS-caliber bowls over the last 15 years (thanks mainly to 14 combined appearances between Ohio State and Michigan), but the West isn't that far behind with 13 appearances.
There's also apparently no truth to the rumor that the Big Ten rejected the name "Who Hates Iowa" for the soon-to-be West division... but, holy hell, is that division ever a buffet of hate for Iowa fans. You've got your well-aged historical feuds with Minnesota and Wisconsin. You've got your new-but-growing rivalries with Northwestern and Nebraska (one series Iowa fans desperately want to be a rivalry and one series Iowa fans desperately don't want to be a rivalry). There's that... whatever-the-hell-it-is with Illinois, too. (In all seriousness, perhaps that rivalry can be rekindled by actually, you know, playing each other. What a concept!) And, of course, this divisional alignment preserves Iowa's annual series with Our Most Hated Rival, so... whew.
Under the new alignment, Iowa would lose its annual games with Michigan and Michigan State, the latter of which has become one of the more competitive series in the Big Ten in recent years, and would probably play Ohio State and Penn State a bit less often. Although with almost no protected cross-division rivalry games (Indiana-Purdue will be the only game of that nature) and a snazzy new nine-game conference schedule, Iowa will have three games a year against its Eastern counterparts, so it should be able to cycle through those opponents at a decent clip.
But yeah: divisions that make sense, names that aren't an immediate punchline, and plenty of guaranteed games against teams Iowa fans take extra pleasure in beating (although the downside of that is that they also suffer extra pain in the losses to those teams)? Yeah, I think this decision is mostly a big fat win. The wisdom of adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten can (and will) be debated for years to come but in leading the Big Ten to adopt these divisions, it's provided at least one benefit for the league and its teams.