State senators explore adding a third Big Ten school in Illinois

By Alex Swanson

A bill, which would create a task force to assess whether adding another Illinos school to the Big Ten Conference would be feasible, was passed by the Illinois Senate’s Higher Education Committee on March 19. The bill is currently on the floor of the Illinois Senate waiting to be put to a vote.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University are currently the only two schools in the state that are members of the Big Ten Conference. 

State Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Naperville, who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said a large motivation behind the bill is the talented students each year who are denied admission to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. If those students want a Big Ten education at a public university, they must leave the state to attain it, Connelly said. 

He added that his reasoning for backing the bill was to address the overwhelming demand he has seen for a Big Ten education at a public school, from parents whose children have been denied from the University.

“We’re trying to address that demand…with this feasibility study to see if maybe we can take one of our current schools and make it a Big Ten caliber school to address that demand,” Connelly said.

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Murphy said he felt this could be a very exciting opportunity for the University.

“My vision of it is to have the University of Illinois freed up to be a magnet for international talent to Illinois, with the second (public) Big Ten university here providing the type of education that tens of thousands of our students want but currently have to leave Illinois to get,” Murphy said.

Murphy likened his vision for the state to the educational position of Michigan. He said he believes that the excellence of the University of Michigan comes partially from the fact that Michigan State, another reputable Big Ten public university, is also available to accept local qualified students.

Connelly stated that he didn’t have a specific Illinois university in mind for entering the Big Ten, but he did address the strengths of several Illinois schools, such as Northern Illinois University and Illinois State University. 

The task force would also be responsible for looking more closely at what kind of academic, athletic and monetary requirements a university that wants to join the Big Ten should possess.

Kerry Kenny, Big Ten associate director of compliance, said in an email that membership into the conference requires a written application submitted to the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors and must be approved by 70 percent or more of the council’s members.

He declined further comment.

According to US News and World Report, all the public universities in the Big Ten Conference are ranked within the top 50 public universities in the country. Northwestern University, a private institution, is ranked as the 12th best national university. 

All Big Ten institutions have also been granted Tier One Status by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Jim Nudera, University of Illinois football player and junior in LAS, felt that having a Big Ten title can significantly affect a school’s reputation.

“If you have the Big Ten tag on your name then you’re definitely looked at as more of a prestigious university, and I think there are definitely standards that need to be upheld,” Nudera said.

Janet Rayfield, head coach of women’s soccer at the University, said the Big Ten Conference is a big draw for potential students in an athletic sense.

“Certainly, among a majority of the sports, it’s considered one of the top conferences in the country, and therefore athletes certainly look at it and say, ‘There’s a program and a conference where I can go and challenge myself against the best of the best,’” Rayfield said.

The conference has undergone many membership changes since its founding in 1896. Penn State was added to the conference in 1990, and Nebraska was added in 2011. Maryland and Rutgers are expected to join the conference in the next few months.

Alex can be reached at [email protected].