patrick kraft ca

Since its inception in 1896, the Big Ten has undergone conference expansion and realignment several times, including its most recent addition of USC and UCLA.

In an effort to better regulate intercollegiate athletics, seven Midwestern universities convened in Chicago on Feb. 8, 1896. These seven schools were Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Purdue and UChicago.

Together, these schools formed the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, which was unofficially popularized as the “Big Ten” or “Western Conference” — though the Big Ten name did not become official until 1987.

The 1896 initiative was intended to define rules and regulations for collegiate athletics, which was held up by a loose structure at the time. Three years later, both Indiana and Iowa were admitted to the conference, marking the conference’s first expansion.

Things remained steady until 1908 when Michigan withdrew from the conference after a disagreement over a proposed rule in 1906.


This rule stated that universities would not be permitted to have professional coaches and would have to be on the university’s faculty. This rule specifically affected Michigan because football coach Fielding Yost was not a part of the university’s faculty. 

The maize and blue’s departure left the conference with only eight teams until the addition of Ohio State in 1912. Ultimately, Michigan returned in November 1917 to bring the school total to double digits.

This gave the ICFR 10 members for the first time in its history, leading to media members calling it the Big Ten as a result.

This 10-school equilibrium lasted until 1946 when UChicago withdrew itself permanently from the group. This move was obvious long before the university announced its decision that year.

In 1933, UChicago’s President Robert Hutchins began planning the abolishment of the university’s football program, which he later accomplished in 1939, following a season where the Maroons were outscored 308-37.

UChicago remained a non-football member of the Big Ten for seven more years before leaving altogether. 

To replace the loss, the Big Ten added Michigan State in 1949, with most athletic participation kicking off during the 1950-51 academic year. 

For 41 years, the Big Ten remained unchanged, but in 1990, Penn State joined the conference. The Nittany Lions were previously independent but won 16 team national titles between 1978 and 1990.


Twenty years later, the Big Ten added another historic school in Nebraska, giving the conference a total of 12 members. With an even number of teams, there was once again balance to the longtime-lopsided structure of the Big Ten.

This structure was destined to be short lived.

In the next few years, Rutgers and Maryland joined the Big Ten as well. This shocking move came with the complete realignment of the conference and its divisions. 

While both schools have made some noise since joining the Big Ten during the 2014-15 academic year, with Maryland winning seven team national titles and Rutgers winning two individual wrestling titles, the additions have not proven to be overwhelming successes.

In recent weeks, the Big Ten agreed to allow two more members, USC and UCLA, to its membership group. The two programs are the first West Coast universities to join the conference.

With them, USC and UCLA bring some of the most storied athletic programs in college sports. This expansion will likely improve athletic competition as a whole as the two new members bring a combined 253 team national titles

The Big Ten has changed drastically over the years — from seven teams more than a century ago to 16 teams as soon as 2024

With reports swirling that the conference isn’t done adding new schools, there seems to be a lot to come from the Big Ten.


Originally published on, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.

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