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Friday, March 8, 2013

By Danny Whitford
Publisher & Editor

Big East forgets to ask: What's in a name?

By Danny Whitford
All Rights Reserved.

View the Mobile Alpha version of this page.

News stories emerged Thursday that the Big East brain trust is considering "America 12" as the conference name for the collection of football-playing schools that will soon bid farewell to both the Catholic 7 and the Big East moniker. The league's barristers reportedly registered a number of Internet domain names reflecting the America 12 concept.


"America 12" in limbo

     One day after reports surfaced that the Big East's football schools were considering adopting the moniker "America 12," league commissioner Mike Aresco issued a statement Friday tamping down speculation about the name.
     “We have not chosen a new conference name at this time and there are no favorites," Aresco said. ... More...

America 12. Try to take in the aroma. Swish it around your mouth. Mumble it under your breath. Say it out loud.

Is it pungent? Is it savory? Is it sour? Is it sweet?

No, it's just plain bland. Like smelling and munching on cardboard.

What thoughts of substance, inspiration or institutional loyalty does "America 12" conjure up relating to a group of college sports teams?

None, as far as I can discern.

When I do the word association test and think of America 12, the first thought that pops into my noggin is "Chicago 7." The second is "Jackson 5."

A legitimate branding tie-in for "America 12" would be a movie about the Army Rangers or Navy Seals.

But an association of collegiate athletic programs assuming that label? I think not. It's an aimless over-reach for a sweeping legitimacy that lacks a solid connection to the identities of the schools that make up the conference.

Maybe the Big East think tank is trying to duplicate on a grander scale the temporary but real brand value that accrued almost overnight for "Catholic 7."

If that's the motivation, perhaps the name "Protestant 12" would be better. Or if that offends the atheists and pagans, we can broach the idea of calling it the "Secular 12."

Each time I try to analyze the potential worth of America 12 as a brand, I shake my head in puzzlement that such esteemed people would come up with a name so detached from the attributes and aspirations of a league that will blaze its own trail starting July 1.

We may as well call it the ACME Conference. Wily Coyote and every other cartoon character that relies on ACME products would be big fans.

Two astute friends pointed out to me yesterday that America 12 would quickly be referred to by many in the media as A-12.

Has anyone ever heard of the A-10?

My friends are dead-on right in the point they were making. When you're trying to build a brand, the last thing you want is brand confusion.

"America 12" is conceptually shallow. It is so generic that it could just as accurately reflect any assorted collection of a dozen persons or other entities with roots in America.

If the conference hired an ad agency or image consulting outfit to come up with the name, the firm should be fired and a penalty for posing as experts should be assessed against their final paycheck.

Now, let's move on to a name that is tangible, one that would make more sense — and more cents.

Mark Blaudschun, a veteran sportswriter who has covered the Big East's long-running soap opera as thoroughly as anyone, proposed on his blog a few days ago that the football schools adopt the name "Big Metro Athletic Conference."

"Metro" is the key word, he suggested. Blaudschun (twitter: @blauds) explained the plain logic in the name, pointing out that it accentuates the prevailing big city nature of the schools' hometowns. That's a selling point that the Big East and ESPN have used very successfully to attract advertisers and sponsors for 30 years.

BMAC would be the acronym, Blaudschun wrote, suggesting that it would be casually called The Big Mac and would be a magnet for tie-ins, licensed products and sponsors — his obvious example was McDonald's.

And let us not forget that "Metro" has inherent brand value in its association in the not-too-distant past with a respected, basketball-centric conference comprised of reputable schools now residing in leagues including the A-10, ACC, Big East, Conference USA and SEC.

Whether it's called Big Metro, BMAC or Big Mac, Blaudschun's a guy with some marketing savvy. He's on the right track with the subtleties. He's a guy who instinctively perceives the fundamental importance of branding.

I was impressed with Blaudschun's suggestions and took note of the chatter about his ideas on fan message boards. I discovered that Big Metro or some variation thereof draws varying degrees of interest and generates buzz in all regions of the conference.

With that in mind, I took a proactive measure in the event that the Big East's big thinkers come to their senses about the unsalted crackers they call "America 12."

I registered the following 22 domain names in order to prevent domain squatters, speculators and extortion artists from locking up the goodies and holding them for ransom:

Frankly, when I logged in to my registrar's search function and discovered that the league's guardians had not reserved at least some of those names out of an abundance of what-if thinking, I was startled. Fortunately, those with ulterior motives didn't get around to snatching up the names either — perhaps because they assumed the Big East's creative minds had surely already acted.

Should the conference decide it would like to adopt any or all of the Big Metro variations listed above, I will gladly transfer ownership and control of the domain names upon request at no charge. I have no intention of using any of the names for personal gain. My only intention in registering them is to protect the conference in the event it determines a variation of Big Metro is a desirable name for the league.

If Metro or Big Metro doesn't grab you, call it Big Momma. Call it All-America Alliance. Call it All-America Conference. Call it the FedEx League. Call it AAA — the American Airlines Association. Something with meat on the bones. Something that ties the schools together. Something that'll put money in the pocket. A name that is not leg-chained to a specific number of schools.

But not America 12. Not even Big America.

If "America 12" strikes fans in the same way that it struck me — with the dull thud of a lifeless body — fans should immediately express their opinions and suggestions to conference and school administrators through e-mail, phone calls, message boards, social media, letters to the editor and other public forums.

Otherwise, you can be sure the stories floated in yesterday's news cycle were a trial balloon to gauge reaction before pulling the trigger. Unless it feels blowback, the league will plunge ahead in the infinite wisdom that comes naturally when one is wearing blinders.

Well, this column is the incredulous blowback from one tiny, remote outpost of the media.

In the end, if the conference decides to go with America 12 or some equally abstract, flavorless name, I'll shake my head and mutter an expletive under my breath.

I'll still support the conference and Bonesville will cover it wall-to-wall, but I won't be excited about the name any time soon.

Based on comments I received after "America 12" drifted up Thursday like a random balloon from nowhere, it's no comfort that I suspect I will have company.

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04/01/2013 11:38 AM

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