The Big Ten Conference, or simply the Big Ten, is a collection of universities that have NCAA Division I standing and are mostly located in the Midwest United States.  Division I schools are those with major collegiate power, large budgets, and elaborate facilities.  Similarly, they are also usually quite large institutions with good reputations. This conference is the oldest of its type. While the Big Ten was originally a group of seven schools, as of July 1, 2011 it will instead have twelve members.

While the Big Ten, as are most collegiate school conferences, are known for football and basketball, the schools compete in a wide range of sports and hold championships for most of them. 

Origins of the Big Ten

The Big Ten Conference emerged from a meeting in 1895 between the presidents of the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, Purdue University, and Lake Forest College. They meet in Chicago to talk about the regulation and control of intercollegiate athletics.

During the second meeting the following year the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives was formed, with the University of Michigan replacing Lake Forest College.  The group was more well-known however as the Western Conference and contained Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Chicago, and Northwestern.

It acquired the name Big Nine after Iowa and Indiana joined the ranks in 1899, but in 1908 the number of member schools again dropped when the University of Michigan unlisted itself from the conference over a disagreement on league rules. In 1912, Ohio State joined and after nine years of separation Michigan came back in 1917.

It was at this time that the conference was first referred to as the Big Ten.

Big Ten Members Adjustments

After World War II the University of Chicago decided to not highlight it’s athletic program as much and withdrew from the Big Ten in 1946 after having lost competitions against other Big Ten members since 1939.  While several schools were slotted to replace Chicago, being Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Michigan State, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Iowa State, it was Michigan State and that joined in 1949.

This membership stayed the same for 40 years, but that’s not to say the organization didn’t go through it’s own changes.  Despite being publically known as the Big Ten Conference, the official name was still the original Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.  That changed in 1987 when the group turned non-profit and it formally adopted the name Big Ten.

Only to expand the conference to eleven teams three years later.

Expansion of the Big Ten

In 1990 the Big Ten universities voted to expand the conference by one and sent an invitation to Penn State who accepted.  Despite the change in numbers however, the conference continued to be Big Ten Logo 1993Credit: Wikipediaknown as the Big Ten.  But in order to acknowledge the addition of Penn State in 1993 the logo was changed to show a negative space 1.

The University of Notre Dame was courted to join the conference after Penn State did.  It briefly considered joining, chose to remain independent, and then in 1999 entered negotiations about entering again.  However there was a conflict of interests; the faculty senate agreed with the idea but the board of trustees didn’t.  Notre Dame today is not part of the conference, but plays many of it’s member’s teams.

Also in the 1990s the University of Texas wished to join because the schools has a similar profile – large state institutions with strong reputations.  However, the school was too far away and the Big Ten turned the southern university away.

In 1993 several other schools such as Kansas and Missouri were considered by the conference to add to it’s group, but the Big 12 formed instead and such additions never happened.

A New Big Ten for the Year 2011

In December of 2009, the conference mentioned it was thinking about expanding again.  There were two motives for such a move.  One, it would increase the reach of the Big Ten Network cable television channel.  Two, having 12 or more schools would allow the conference to start a conference championship game in football, which could turn into a cash cow.   The Big Ten at the time was considering expanding to up to 16 schools. 

Nebraska tried to join the group first in 1900 and then again in 1911 with no success. When they applied again for membership in 2010, they were unanimously accepted and are set to officially join the conference on July 1, 2011. While now consisting of twelve members, the conference is still called the Big Ten.

Also new for the year 2011 is the conference’s divisional split, a Legends Division and a Leaders Division that only applies to football.  With 6 schools in each, football schedules will include one game verse every other school in the same division, one cross-over game, and two rotating cross divisional games.  It’s the same system the Southeastern Conference (SEC) uses, and still allows rival schools to have their yearly battle. The Indiana/Michigan State and Michigan/Ohio State games are protected cross-overs.

Legends teams include Minnesota, Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Those in the Leaders Division are Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State.  The names of the divisions however could change, as they weren’t well liked when they were released in December 2010.  How the teams are organized will not though, as it’s based on achieving a competitive balance. 

Big Ten Division MapCredit: Wikipedia

While the conference expressed a willingness to expand the conference to 16 teams, there has not been any news that any other schools are either applying or being approached to join. But that might change.