The Naming Lesson From The Pac-12 Fiasco

The Pac-12 college football conference no longer has 12 teams. In fact, after the recent departures, they are down to 4 teams. Conversely, the Big Ten Conference now has 14 teams and will soon have 18. The Big 12 conference will grow to 16 teams.


Well, that is the issue with launching your brand with a name that immediately limits your expansion potential.

When the Big Ten Conference added Penn State in 1990 they grew to 11 teams. They tried to finesse their branding by including the number 11 in the negative space around their name:

The Big Ten had 11 teams for 20+ years until they added Nebraska in 2011 and then rapidly added Maryland and Rutgers. They modified their logo to just say “10.”

However, those clever logo gymnastics would not have been necessary if the people in charge of the brand had followed an important rule of name development: Names should allow for future expansion. Clearly the Big Ten Conference name was a gross violation of this principle.

Another brand name in the news has also demonstrated a violation of this principle: When the company was started in 1997 it had a very niche positioning – selling excess inventory from other companies. But over time the name has proven to be limiting as the company grew to include many other product lines that were not just excess inventory. recently acquired the digital assets of Bed Bath & Beyond, and has relaunched as Bed, Bath & Beyond. In particular, the “& Beyond” flexibility overcomes the limitations of the name.

But they would not have had to do that if they had chosen a more flexible name in the first place.

I get it. Companies with a niche positioning want to focus on the very narrow definition of the brand. And in the Big Ten Conference situation, I don’t think anyone was considering how significant the brand would become when it was named in the 1950’s.

But CEO’s need to provide long-term thinking and expansion possibilities when considering the name.

My advice is to always allow for future expansion in the name. That is one of the key points in my Name Evaluation Tool (available free at

In the meantime, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12…I’m available if you want to rebrand!

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