CHICAGO—All sports fans love a good debate.
And if my instincts are right, the Big Ten Network's newest project will create more than its share of discussion and argument from State College to Iowa City—and everywhere else—over the next few months.
The soon-to-premiere series, which is entitled Big Ten Icons, attempts to list and categorize the top 50 student-athletes in the conference's long and storied history.
No small undertaking, obviously.
Oh, and here's the best part: fans aren't required (or expected) to necessarily agree with their rankings.
The word icon is "incredibly subjective," BTN president Mark Silverman told me here Tuesday morning. "And I like that."
"What you might consider an icon may be very different than what I might consider it. Is it Heisman Trophies? Is it national championships? Is it Player of the Years? Is it transcending the sport? It means something to everyone."
The network scored a major coup by landing legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson—an icon in his own right—to host the series, which includes a half-hour television feature on each of the top 20 student-athletes. (Nos. 50-21 will be unveiled online starting September 2nd.)
"Getting Keith Jackson to host Icons was not easy," Silverman said. "He's very much retired, he's very happily retired. We bandied about a couple [other] names...but you kept coming back to 'the show is at a different level with Keith Jackson.'"
Silverman went on to explain that one of BTN's producers, Bob Lanning, had a previous relationship with Jackson, and eventually (after much convincing), Jackson agreed to un-retire for a project he calls "a great thrill."
The show, which premieres after a football telecast on September 18th before settling into its normal time slot (Tuesdays at 9:00 pm ET), has already been inspiring plenty of debate about which icons deserve to be recognized...and that's just inside the network's Chicago headquarters.
"It was a great topic—it probably took up more time in our offices than it should have," Silverman confessed with a chuckle. "We were enjoying those meetings: they're the meetings that would always go long."
Only a handful of people ("It's a very short list," said BTN vice president Elizabeth Conlisk) know the final outcome of the rankings, which are based solely on what each student-athlete did during his or her collegiate career.
So now the debates begin.
Personally, when I first heard about the show, I immediately (as a lifelong Purdue fan) thought of Drew Brees. After all, Brees only helped popularize the spread offense in the Big Ten and took the Boilermakers to their first Rose Bowl in over 30 years. If there's a face to Purdue's football program, it's that of the most recent Super Bowl MVP.
Can you say..."icon"?
But that's me. And everyone has their own icon that immediately comes to mind.
For network lead anchor Dave Revsine, it's Jesse Owens.
For fellow host Mike Hall, the list starts with one Dick Butkus.
Conlisk referenced Archie Griffin: "No one's ever done what he did [two Heismans]."
Silverman's first thoughts were of Owens and Magic Johnson.
"There's going to be some of these icons that you are attached to and that you're going to have a viewpoint about. These are people that played in your stadiums: you might have seen them, your grandfather or father might have seen them. This is going to touch Big Ten fans more because you're going to have a stake in the game," Silverman said.
"The amount of research and input that goes into this show is way beyond anything we've ever done before. We're really proud, and we think fans are going to enjoy it."
I'm sure he's right.
(As long as Brees makes the list, that is.)
For more information on Big Ten Icons, visit www.BigTenIcons.com.