A little over 25 years ago, the Coca-Cola Company was concerned that it was losing market share to Pepsi in the “Cola Wars” and hired an avalanche of consultants and scientists to concoct a new formula for its flagship product. If you were a businessman that only made judgments based on specific metrics from market studies, it looked like the move would be a success. Focus groups actually gave a ton of positive feedback to what would become known as “New Coke” and stated that they liked it better than both the original Coke formula and Pepsi. Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta were convinced that this was what was going to overtake the “Pepsi Generation” by making a clear and bold break with tradition and the past.
New Coke was introduced to the public on April 23, 1985. The public’s reaction was swift and visceral: they wanted to torch the company’s headquarters. Oh sure, they said that they liked New Coke in blind taste tests, yet all of those highly-paid consultants didn’t factor in that there was a bond to the original flavor that went beyond the taste buds. New Coke bombed in stores, boycotts occurred across the country, all of the original formula Coke left on store shelves was being hoarded and politicians started squawking. Less than 3 months after New Coke’s debut, Coke brought back the original formula under the name Coca-Coca Classic. David Keough, the president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola at the time, stated this (with emphasis added) at the press conference announcing the return of the traditional taste: “There is a twist to this story which will please every humanist and will probably keep Harvard professors puzzled for years. The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”
I’m a corporate attorney that has spent most of my career either working with or for large management consulting firms. So, I have a ton of respect for consultants in general and personally have a lot at stake working within that industry. I also have no qualms about bucking tradition when its appropriate in order to maximize revenue – most of the readers here came across my blog via a post advocating that the Big Ten go after Texas in a decidedly non-traditional expansion move. According to Mike Gundy, I’m not even old enough to be a man yet. The point is that I’m not an old fuddy duddy traditionalist that doesn’t think about finances and just wishes everything would go back to the old days.
Here’s the problem that I have and we’re facing as fans on the outside: no consulting firm on Earth will receive much in terms of hourly fees by telling Coca-Cola to stick with its original formula… or say that the Big Ten should simply have a logical East/West split in its divisions… or that moving the Michigan-Ohio State game from the last weekend of the regular season is so ludicrous that merely discussing is a waste of time since it is a slap in the face to college football fans everywhere. Doing what’s logical can be summed up in a comment to a blog post (much less a blog post itself). Making several million dollars in consulting fees requires to coming up with wacky division alignments, statistical analysis on “competitive balance”, test marketing, and multitudes of Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations explaining how there’s a double pot of gold if you can get Michigan and Ohio State to play twice in a single season. Never mind that the ACC tried to do the same with Miami and Florida State and the football gods have crushed the prospect of that conference championship game matchup every year. I’m sure that the Big Ten brass in Park Ridge has been poring over so much data over the past few months without public interaction that they’ve likely convinced themselves that the simple and logical answer to divisional alignment and treatment of the Michigan-Ohio State game can’t possibly be good enough, just like the people at Coca-Cola’s headquarters 25 years ago.
Alas, the very smart people at the Big Ten conference offices are completely outsmarting themselves here. For whatever reason, the KISS formula of a logical East/West division split simply won’t do. I can somewhat understand the desire to split the 4 “marquee brands” of Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska evenly amongst the divisions. However, the thought of (1) sending Michigan and Ohio State to opposite divisions and (2) moving their rivalry game from the end of the season to the midseason is even worse than the idea of New Coke. At least Coca-Cola wanted to shake things up because it was losing market share. In contrast, the Big Ten is at the height of its power and has ZERO reason to eliminate a single rivalry game or mess with its most valuable regular season property. Jim Delany, Barry Alvarez and other Big Ten representatives claiming that there isn’t a way to preserve all of the conference’s currently protected rivalries is complete B.S. (especially if it’s true that the Big Ten will have a 9-game conference schedule starting in 2015). They can ALL be protected if the Big Ten chose the KISS alignment, but they are affirmatively CHOOSING not to use it.
Well, if the Big Ten isn’t going to go with the KISS formula (which I continue to believe is the right way to do it), it should at least try to mitigate the damage that it’s going to do to its fans and traditions. My hope is that the Big Ten realizes that it’s not worth it to whore itself out for $150,000 per school (as determined by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo!) in the hopes of a Michigan-Ohio State rematch in a Big Ten Championship Game. That’s right: a whole $150,000 per school, which is less than the annual interest on John Calipari’s slush fund. Seriously, though, to put that in perspective, mgoblog calculated that Michigan could raise $150,000 by increasing ticket prices by twenty cents. Also, Ohio State is paying Colorado $1.4 million to visit the Horsehoe for a PACrifice blood money home game in 2011. So, the complete destruction of the century-old tradition of the Michigan-Ohio State game will pay for less than 7 minutes of Colorado’s time on the field. WTF?!
Let me hammer home for the second time in this blog post that the ACC has tried this exact same thing with its gerrymandered divisions that look like a rottweiler tore into a Rand McNally road atlas in order to setup a Miami-Florida State championship game and HAS FAILED. The fact that the national media doesn’t immediately point out immediately how AWFUL the ACC divisions are (as opposed to the constant bitching about the red herring of the perceived Big 12 North/South “imbalance”) is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of this. LOOK AT THE FAILURE OF THE ACC HERE. I will beat this into everyone’s head until it becomes a reflexive response.
Before I get angrier about this, let’s try to put together a reasonable alternative to the KISS formula that keeps Michigan and Ohio State together while also making a good faith effort toward the amorphous concept of “competitive balance”. To me, there are 3 “pods” of schools in the Big Ten:
Here are my division alignment parameters:
(1) 2 teams from each pod are in each division
(2) 1 permanent intra-pod cross-division opponent
(3) Michigan and Ohio State are kept together (meaning Penn State and Nebraska must be together)
(4) Don’t let either Penn State or Nebraska be on islands
(5) Equal access to prime recruiting territories means as much as competitive balance
So, here’s my proposed division alignment:
PERMANENT CROSS-DIVISION RIVALRIES
Michigan – Michigan State
Ohio State – Penn State
Wisconsin – Nebraska
Minnesota – Iowa
Northwestern - Illinois
Purdue – Indiana
Under this, Michigan – Ohio State continues to be played at the end of the regular season and the conference sets up another marquee end-of-the-year matchup between Nebraska and either Penn State or Iowa. The 4 marquee brand schools are split up evenly and every school has direct annual exposure to at least 3 of the 4 top recruiting territories within the Big Ten region (Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania). Finally, except for Wisconsin – Iowa (which was most in danger because they are both such natural pairs with Nebraska and I’ll be damned if the Floyd of Rosedale, the most bad-ass trophy in sports, gets cut), EVERY SINGLE CURRENTLY PROTECTED RIVALRY WILL LIVE ON. Once again, don’t let anyone sweet talk you into thinking that “competitive balance” had to kill multiple rivalries – that’s complete bunk.
Whatever your thoughts are on this issue, I encourage you to email Jim Delany at email@example.com (h/t to super commenter Adam) and the president/chancellor and athletic director of your favorite school. Even better on top of that, email the groups of people that can really make the aforementioned people squirm: the members of the board of trustees of your favorite school that sign the paychecks and the applicable state legislators that control public university funding. Be sure to mention if you donate to your school or hold season tickets and what will happen to such donations and season ticket payments if the Big Ten continues to ignore its fans that provide financial support to its member institutions.
I hope that Jim Delany and the powers that be within the Big Ten remember the thoughts of the former Coca-Cola president that screwed up by introducing New Coke: All of the time and money that the Big Ten is paying consultants to figure out its division will NOT measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to the conference’s traditions by so many people. If the Big Ten is going to make a grave error in its divisional alignments, at least make it only a Crystal Pepsi mistake instead of a New Coke nuclear bomb on history.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
(Image from Virgin Media)