10:00pm

Tue April 5, 2011
Sweetness And Light

A League By Any Other Name: The Big National?

Here's something that's always intrigued me. Why do almost all groups of professional teams call themselves "leagues," but similar college aggregates call themselves "conferences"? It can't be because league suggests professionalism. After all, the purest college sports alliance is the fancy-schmancy old Ivies, and they call themselves the Ivy League.

There was one professional conference, the All-American Football Conference, which lasted for a few years in the 1940s, and gave to the NFL the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers.

Now, "association" has pretty much gone out of style –– except for basketball. The NBA got stuck with association in 1949, when the National Basketball League merged with the Basketball Association of America. I think sports people have decided that association sounds too intellectual.

For some reason, all leagues want to be "National." The National League in baseball is even called the "senior circuit." National always comes first, then American. You would think patriots would go with American first, but it's just never that way. Go figure.

Likewise, there are entirely too many college conferences that call themselves Big: the Big 10; the Big 12; the Big East; the Big South; the Big West; and the Big Sky. Please. Five bigs too many.

You'd think college people could be more original. The Big National would be the most popular name in sports. Maybe I should register bignational.com in case somebody wises up. Then I'd make 'em pay me, big time.

Once people name their conference or their league, sometimes they goof up terribly when they need to name divisions, too.

Like the Big 10 — which, by the way, is up to 11 teams now, going on 12. It is going to call its six-team subgroups the Legends Division and the Leaders Division. That is so lame. Those are the worst names since the National Hockey League named both its conferences and divisions after people –– like the Prince of Wales Conference. Oh, please.

Most leagues just go by the compass when it comes to divisions: your basic East and West, then into your Northwests and Southeasts.

The dumbest was in the NCAA basketball tournament, which for many years had the East Regional, the West Regional, the Midwest Regional and the Mideast Regional, which sounded like it was being played on the Gaza Strip. Happily, they've changed it to the Southeast Regional.

Some leagues also borrow the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for division names. And "Central" is also popular. Smart. As coaches say: K-I-S-S, kiss: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Like, the Atlantic Coast Conference has two divisions: the Atlantic and the Coastal. Duh. My advice to the Big 10 is to get rid of Leaders and Legends and name its divisions the Midwest and the Central. Or the Little Six and the Small Six. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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