The Big Ten's ridiculous division names will be getting a makeover—probably thousands of them—thanks to NCAA Football 12.
That wasn't the original intention of the fully customizable conference features built into this year's game, but it will most definitely be one of their consequences when college football traditionalists bring home NCAA 12 in early July.
Rewind: Last year, the Big Ten stole Nebraska from the Big 12 to give itself 12 members (and the Big 12, well, 10), allowing the league to divide itself into two divisions and stage a conference title game. Instead of going with a geographic alignment, the Big Ten named its divisions "Leaders" and "Legends," which sound like the names for a team-building scavenger hunt at Dunder Mifflin's annual conference. There was much derision.
This year, NCAA 12 allows you to completely remake the face of college football's conferences. In the past, you could only swap teams on a 1:1 basis; memberships had to stay at their real-world numbers. Not this year.
"If you'll remember, this time last year we were talking about a Pac-16," said producer Ben Haumiller. "People were talking about Texas A&M going to the SEC. There was a lot of excitement over these possibilities, and we wanted to capture that."
So if you want the Big Ten to be, well, ten members; if you want to create that Pac-16; heck, if you want to dissolve the Big East and return to the days of the Eastern independents that formed it—up to 32 schools can be made independent—then go for it.
That's how the division-renaming feature came in. The team figured that if gamers wanted to create a superconference out of the Mountain West, they'd want to give the divisions sensible names. Generic "Division A" or "Division B" names would be off putting.
I asked if the NCAA team ran the division renaming feature by the leagues. Nnnnnnnnnot exactly, was the reply, but the game does draw a line: You cannot change an existing league's name or its logo. As you can't create a new league, only modify existing ones, you're stuck with those names and insignia unless you take a school independent.
But getting back to the original point, you can kill "Leaders" and "Legends" in its infancy. Lots of folks thought the Big Ten should have organized itself into "Great Plains" and "Great Lakes" divisions, which makes scads more sense, and at the least isn't laughable. My guess is we'll see a lot of that.
Me, I come from the ACC, and I'll be tempted to bring back the old days, getting rid of all the expansion teams and Georgia Tech and returning South Carolina to the league. At minimum I'll jettison the ACC's own insipid nongeographic structure which—and there is no goddamn way this was a coincidence—put bluebloods North Carolina, Virginia, and Duke in one division, and ghettoized land grants State, Clemson and Maryland in another. Dad and I call those the "Early Admission" and "Wait List" divisions.
When you get done building your super- or classic conference, the tinkering doesn't stop there. Haumiller said conference rules may be set, governing when teams may and may not play. The Big Ten, for example, only plays conference games on Saturday and does not play any night games in November. So traditionalists can keep their league off of the Thursday and Sunday night games if they want.
Rival games may be locked in. Bowl tie-ins can be set according to your preference; send the Sun Belt winner to the Rose if you want. Championship game sites may be held at the home field of the best regular-season finisher, or a neutral site at any of the more than 100 stadiums included in the game-even on the game's high school or practice field if you want.
In conjunction with TeamBuilder, which many have used to create non-Division I-A schools and bring them into the game, the conference realignment tools become especially powerful. An Ivy League with a Sugar Bowl tie-in? Have at it.
"We really wanted to use this chance to show of the depth of what the feature does," Haumiller said.