It might seem that Penn State coach Joe Paterno has been around as long as college football pioneer Amos Alonzo Stagg, and thanks to the Big Ten Conference's decision to combine past and present as it moves forward into its expanded, 12-member lineup for the 2011 football season, those two coaching icons will be forever linked.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany revealed aspects of the new-look Big Ten during a teleconference yesterday, which included the unveiling of an updated logo and names for the two six-team divisions, as well as for 18 football awards, all of which are meant to honor some of the more noteworthy figures in the league's tradition-encrusted, 115-year history.
Penn State, which joined the Big Ten in 1993, is assigned to the "Leaders" division, along with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. The "Legends" division will be comprised of Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Big 12 expatriate Nebraska, which officially comes aboard on July 1 of next year.
Delany said much thought was given to what to call the new divisions, as well as the assignment of its members. It ultimately was decided by conference presidents and athletic directors that it was too simplistic to make those determinations based solely on geographic location.
"We had unanimous support for trying to achieve competitive equality," Delany said when asked for the overriding factor in determining which schools were assigned to which a particular division. "We also had unanimous support for trying to maintain as many rivalry games as we could.
"We didn't feel we could do geography because we have maybe seven schools that could be described as centrally located."
Toward that end, traditional rivals Ohio State and Michigan, although in different divisions, will continue to play one another annually in their regular-season-ending blood feud.
Among the new or updated trophies announced is the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy, which will be presented to the winner of the conference title game that is to be played beginning next season.
Stagg, who was 102 when he died in 1965, coached from 1892 to 1932 at the University of Chicago, which was one of the founding members of the Big Ten. He guided the Maroons to national championships in 1905 and 1913. His last season as a head coach on a college sideline was 1946, at the University of the Pacific, when he was 84.
That makes him a perfect selection for an award co-named with fellow octogenarian field boss Paterno, who turns 84 on Dec. 21. Maybe that's why JoePa, who doesn't like too much of a fuss being made over him, consented to the arrangement when contacted by the Big Ten.
So what did Paterno say when sounded out about lending his name to the new Big Ten championship game trophy?
"He gave us his permission," Delany said. "I didn't speak to him personally. One of our staff members did. I hope he's pleased."
Among the other awards that will begin being handed out in 2011 and into the future as the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year Award, named for deceased luminaries Woody Hayes, of Ohio State, and Bo Schembechler, of Michigan; the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year Award, named for Otto Graham and Eddie George, and the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year Award, named for Bronko Nagurski and Charles Woodson.
Delany said the awards are meant to honor the 18 Heisman Trophy winners and 20 Hall of Famers for whom they are named, the better to inspire future generations of Big Ten athletes and coaches.
"We're hoping that [the names] resonate," Delany said. "What we've tried to do here is not get stuck in the past, but to build off the past and think in new and innovative ways to move forward. Part of that is making sure you're aware of where you came from." *