Big Ten Conference: Big on Academics and Sports

Penn State University Beaver Stadium

If there were an Ivy League of athletic conference schools, it may be the Big 10, the oldest Division I athletic conference in the United States.
Penn State University Beaver Stadium
Big Ten List

Niche Overall Grade
A+University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignIL31,118
AIndiana UniversityBloomingtonIN30,949
AUniversity of IowaIowa CityIA19,639
A+University of MichiganAnn ArborMI27,046
A+Michigan State UniversityEast LansingMI34,196
A+University of MinnesotaMinneapolisMN29,125
A-University of Nebraska - LincolnLincolnNE18,039
A+Northwestern UniversityEvanstonIL8,542
A+Ohio State UniversityColumbusOH38,884
A+Penn StateUniversity ParkPA37,917
APurdue UniversityWest LafayetteIN29,360
A+University of WisconsinMadisonWI28,167
AUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkMD24,486
A- Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickNJ30,038
Big Ten History

Setting: Palmer House Hotel, Chicago, 1895.

Purdue University president James H. Smart is joined by representatives from the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, and the University of Wisconsin to organize the regulation of intercollegiate athletics. What would transpire would be the basis for the Big Ten Conference.

Big Ten: "Restricted eligibility for full-time students who were negligent in their studies."

The main thing these university leaders wanted to outline was the idea of restricted eligibility for full-time students who were negligent in their studies, so while sports were important, excelling in school was just as meaningful. A year later, these seven institutions would meet at the Palmer House again, this time officially calling themselves the “Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives” or “Western Conference.” By 1899, Indiana University and the University of Iowa joined, and in 1910, Ohio State University entered the organization, bringing the number to 10 and earning the conference the “Big Ten” moniker.

The University of Chicago held the first Big Ten competition in 1901, an outdoor track and field championship that became one of the conference’s essential sports. Today, the conference consists of more than 10 teams each in the men’s and women’s sections, including track and field.

Big Ten Sports

Big Ten Men's Sports
Big Ten Women's Sports
BasketballCross Country
Cross CountryField Hockey
GymnasticsIndoor Track
Indoor TrackRowing
Outdoor TrackOutdoor Track
Big Ten Rules

Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the Big Ten Conference was founded based on the following rules:

  • Academic accountability matching athletic accountability
  • Eligible athletes meeting entrance requirements
  • Eligible athletes completing a full year’s work and having one year of residence

Student athletes who follow these rules are eligible for the Medal of Honor award, which started recognizing students in 1915 and is considered the most renowned achievement in the association.

Big Ten Fast Facts

Founding Year1896
DivisionDivision I
Members14 (as of July 2014)
HeadquartersRosemont, Illinois

Big Ten Through the Years

While the conference gained its name for having 10 schools in its league, the number of participating schools has changed through the years. It wasn’t until 1917, after the University of Michigan had returned after leaving the conference in 1908, that the circuit started to be referred to as the “Big Ten,” since previously it only had nine schools.

Big Ten: "The Big 10 number fluctuated between 9 and 10 for years."

In 1946, the University of Chicago withdrew, and by 1949, Michigan State University was added, so the number fluctuated between 9 and 10 for years. By 1981, the league started adding women’s sports and was the first conference to initiate goals for both men and women under 1992’s Gender Equity Plan.

After Penn State was added in 1990, the “Big Ten” number was permanently altered, bringing the participating institutions to 11. In 2011, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln was added, and the number will rise to 14 in 2014 with the addition of University of Maryland and Rutgers University after approval by the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors.

The Bottom Line

Today, the Big Ten Conference is so big that it has its own TV network, the Big Ten Network, which was created in 2006. While sports are inherently what the conference is known for, it’s academic responsibility that aided in its formation.