The Complete History of Big Ten Realignment

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Athlon Sports recaps over 100 years of Big Ten realignment.

The Complete History of Big Ten Realignment

Conference realignment reached a fever pitch a few years ago and it caused great headaches for fans and coaches across the nation.

 

The dollars and “sense” of conference realignment blazed a path through college football for a few years following the turn of the century, however, teams shifting leagues for greener pastures isn’t a new phenomenon.

 

The Big Ten was created in 1896, is the oldest Division I collegiate conference in the NCAA and is adding two new teams this July in Maryland and Rutgers. Did you know the University of Chicago was a founding member? Or that Michigan was kicked out of the league for a decade?

 

The point is conference realignment has been happening for over 100 years of college football, and, while the process escalated to dizzying speeds recently, it’s not even close to ending. Want some proof? Here is a complete look at the history of the Big Ten conference and how realignment has shaped the league over time.

 

The Commissioners:

 

John Griffith, 1922-44 (died in office)

Kenneth “Tug” Wilson, 1945-61

William Reed, 1961-71 (died in office)

Wayne Duke, 1971-89

Jim Delany, 1989-present

 

The Timeline:

 

1896: The Big Ten is formed as the first major collegiate conference of universities. Purdue president James Smart is credited with spearheading the decision to regulate and control intercollegiate athletics. The seven founding members were the University of Chicago, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Lake Forest College attended the 1895 meeting that eventually spawned what was then referred to as the Western Conference, but it did not join the league.

 

1899: Iowa and Indiana both join the Big Ten Conference three years after its inception. It was then commonly called the Big Nine. Both Iowa and Indiana would begin athletic competition the following year. Interestingly enough, Nebraska petitioned to join the league the same year (and would again request an invitation in 1911 to no avail).

 

1908: Michigan was voted out of the conference due to rules issues. The Wolverines failed to adhere to league-wide regulations and were subsequently ruled inactive.

 

1912: Ohio State joins the league.

 

1917: After Michigan was finally allowed back into the conference after its decade-long hiatus, the term Big Ten became an instantly popular way to refer to the conference.

 

1946: Due to the on-going World War in Europe, the University of Chicago had de-emphasized athletics in 1939 by discontinuing its football program. By 1946, Chicago withdrew from the league. The Big Ten went back to being referred to as the Big Nine.

 

1950: Michigan State is invited to join the Big Nine and does so to return the total number of league institutions to ten. The term Big Ten was re-adopted at this point. It would begin athletic competition in 1953.

 

1987: Technically, the league had been named the “Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives.” But since ICFR doesn’t roll off the tongue, the league officially changed its name to The Big Ten when it was incorporated as a non-profit business entity.

 

1990: After remaining unchanged for four decades of success, the Big Ten voted to expand to 11 schools and asked Penn State to join. The Nittany Lions, who were denied entrance into the Big East in 1982, were happy to oblige. It would begin Big Ten athletic competition in 1993.

 

2010-11: Nebraska applies for Big Ten membership and is unanimously approved as the league’s 12th institution. Nebraska played its first Big Ten conference schedule the following year and the league splits into two divisions to accommodate the Cornhuskers. Additionally, the Big Ten plays its first league championship game in Indianapolis.

 

2014: As the College Football Playoff Era begins, so too, does a new edition of the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers join the conference in all sports, pushing the league to a record 14 members. The divisions have been renamed the West and the East and will feature seven teams each. Both the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will play in the East Division and both extend the B1G footprint into the coveted, population-rich Northeast. Lastly, Johns Hopkins University is actually joining the Big Ten as a men’s lacrosse member only. Officially, JHU has won 44 lacrosse national championships since being founded in 1883.

 

Big Ten's BCS Bowl Record: 13-15*

Big Ten's BCS National Championships: 1-2

* - including any vacated appearances
 

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