The Big Ten Conference (stylized B1G, formerly the Western Conference and the Big Nine Conference) is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States. It is based in suburban Chicago, Illinois. For decades the conference consisted of 10 universities but the present conference has 14 member institutions. They compete in the NCAA Division I; its football teams compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, the highest level of NCAA competition in that sport. The conference includes the flagship public university in each of 11 states stretching from New Jersey to Nebraska, as well as two additional public land-grant schools and a private university.|
Big Ten member institutions are major research universities with large financial endowments and strong academic reputations. Large student enrollment is a hallmark of Big Ten Universities, as 13 of the 14 members feature enrollments of 30,000 or more students. Northwestern University, the only full member with a total enrollment of fewer than 30,000 students, is the lone private university among Big Ten membership (the University of Chicago, a private university, left the conference in 1946). Collectively, Big Ten universities educate more than 520,000 total students and have 5.7 million living alumni. Big Ten universities engage in $9.3 billion in funded research each year. Though the Big Ten existed for nearly a century as an assemblage of universities located primarily in the Midwest, the conference's geographic footprint now stretches east to the Atlantic Ocean.
Initiated and led by Purdue University President James Henry Smart, the presidents of University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, Purdue University and Lake Forest College met in Chicago on January 11, 1895 to discuss the regulation and control of intercollegiate athletics. The eligibility of student-athletes was one of the main topics of discussion. The Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives was founded at a second meeting on February 8, 1896. Lake Forest was not at the 1896 meeting that established the conference and was replaced by the University of Michigan. At the time, the organization was more commonly known as the Western Conference, consisting of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Chicago, Purdue, and Northwestern.
The conference was again known as the Big Nine after the University of Chicago decided to de-emphasize varsity athletics just after World War II. Chicago discontinued its football program in 1939 and withdrew from the conference in 1946 after struggling to obtain victories in many conference matchups. It was believed that one of several schools, notably Iowa State, Marquette, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh would replace Chicago at the time. On May 20, 1949, Michigan State ended the speculation by joining and the conference was again known as the Big Ten. The Big Ten's membership would remain unchanged for the next 40 years. The conference's official name throughout this period remained the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives. It did not formally adopt the name Big Ten until 1987, when it was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation.
Following the addition of Penn State, efforts were made to encourage the University of Notre Dame, at that time the last remaining non-service academy independent, to join the league. In 1999, Notre Dame and the Big Ten entered into private negotiations concerning a possible membership that would include Notre Dame. Although Notre Dame's faculty senate endorsed the idea with a near-unanimous vote, the school's board of trustees decided against joining the conference. (In 1926, Notre Dame had briefly considered official entry into the Big Ten but chose to retain its independent status.) Notre Dame subsequently joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football, in which Notre Dame maintains its independent status as long as it plays at least five games per season against ACC opponents. This was believed to be the major stumbling block to Notre Dame joining the Big Ten, as Notre Dame wanted to retain its independent home game broadcasting contract with NBC Sports, while the Big Ten insisted upon a full membership with no special exemptions.
On June 3, 2013, the Big Ten announced the sponsorship of men's and women's lacrosse. For any conference to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, at least six member schools must play the sport. In women's lacrosse, the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten brought the conference up to the requisite six participants, joining programs at Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State. In men's lacrosse, Ohio State and Penn State were the only existing participants. Coincident with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, Michigan agreed to upgrade its successful club team to varsity status, giving the Big Ten five sponsoring schools, one short of the minimum six for an automatic bid. Johns Hopkins University opted to join the conference as its first affiliate member beginning in 2014. Johns Hopkins had been independent in men's lacrosse for 130 years, claiming 44 national championships. As long-time independents joined conferences (for example, Syracuse joining the Atlantic Coast Conference), other schools competing as independents in some cases concluded that the inability to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament was becoming a more serious competitive disadvantage in scheduling and recruiting.
Since 1946, the Big Ten champion has had a tie-in with the Rose Bowl game. Michigan appeared in the first bowl game, the 1902 Rose Bowl. After that, the Big Ten did not allow their schools to participate in bowl games, until the agreement struck with the Pacific Coast Conference for the 1947 Rose Bowl. From 1946 through 1971, the Big Ten did not allow the same team to represent the conference in consecutive years in the Rose Bowl with an exception made after the 1961 season in which Minnesota played in the 1962 Rose Bowl after playing in the 1961 Rose Bowl due to Ohio State declining the bid because of Ohio State faculty concerns about academics.
The Outback, Foster Farms and Holiday Bowls will feature at least five different Big Ten schools over the six-year agreement (through 2019 season). The Music City and Gator Bowl will coordinate their selections allowing only one to pick a Big Ten team. The Big Ten will make appearances in three of each bowl games over the term of the agreement (through 2019 season).
Big Ten teams have also experienced success in the postseason NIT. Since 1974, 13 Big Ten teams have made it to the championship game, winning nine championships. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Minnesota have won two NIT championships, while Indiana and Purdue have won one each. Two other current members, Maryland and Nebraska, won NIT titles before they joined the Big Ten. In addition, the Helms Athletic Foundation recognizes Illinois as the 1915 National Champions, Minnesota as the 1902 and 1919 National Champions, Northwestern as the 1931 National Champion, Purdue as the 1932 National Champions, and Wisconsin as 1912, 1914 and 1916 National Champions. Former member Chicago won a post-season national championship series in 1908.
The Big Ten began sponsoring men's lacrosse in the 2015 season. The Big Ten lacrosse league includes Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, and Johns Hopkins, which joined the Big Ten conference as an affiliate member in 2014. The teams that compete in Big Ten men's lacrosse have combined to win 12 NCAA national championships.