It’s no secret the Big Ten Conference is trying to gain the upper hand in an ever-changing college football landscape. Some schools like Oregon and Washington have already expressed their desire to join the conference, while the Big Ten is hunting Notre Dame and other big fish.
A major hurdle in the past for many has been being a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which currently has 71 members. Per the AAU’s website, the goal of their member schools is to “collectively help shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education, and strengthen the contributions of leading research universities to American society.”
Currently, 15 of the 16 Big Ten schools are part of the AAU, with Nebraska being the exception. To this point, it has been an indicator and a status symbol of being worthy of the Big Ten prestige.
That’s why it was major news last week when the AAU announced six new members to their association, including Notre Dame and Miami.
AAU announced today that @ASU, @GWtweets, @UCRiverside, @univmiami, @NotreDame, and @USouthFlorida have joined the association, bringing its membership to 71 total institutions.— AAU (@AAUniversities) June 1, 2023
Read our full statement: https://t.co/iVFrw7ZDFY pic.twitter.com/8GvfCNavbF
Previously, the AAU accreditation was seen as a huge reason why Notre Dame hadn’t joined the Big Ten.
According to Brett McMurphy, however, this AAU status may not be as important as originally thought. Per a Big Ten source, “(AAU status) is a preference, but solid academics are measured in a variety of ways.”
AAU membership “not a requirement,” to join Big Ten, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. “Maybe (AAU status) is a preference, but solid academics are measured variety of ways,” source said. B1G's 16-members, including USC & UCLA, are all AAU except Nebraska. NU was AAU member in 2010,…— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) June 7, 2023
What does this mean? Dollar signs.
The academic standards of the conference are still important, no doubt. But under the new regime of Tony Pettiti, who took over in late April, it appears schools that can bring in massive revenue may be an exception, much like Nebraska was in 2011.
It’s interesting Notre Dame got it despite this fact, because arguably two of its biggest three rivals — Michigan, USC — will be Big Ten members by 2024. Monetarily speaking, both would heavily outway Stanford’s rivalry with the Fighting Irish as well. To me, it feels like we are creeping closer to the marriage of the two, which is a long time coming.
What’s arguably even more intriguing is Miami achieving the AAU accreditation because it feels like the southeast is the final major market the Big Ten has yet to dip into. It’s also where their fiercest rival, the SEC, is most prevalent. As soon as one of these conferences breaks that ACC mold, I would not be surprised if the floodgates opened up for even more teams to join the Big Ten.
McMurphy also highlighted Oregon, Washington, Cal, Stanford, UNC and Virginia as other possible AAU expansion candidates. He also included out-of-the-box options, Florida State and Clemson.
Overall, the feeling I get is the Big Ten wants to be a cross-country market. Heck, that’s the biggest reason they expanded to Maryland and Rutgers in the northeast in 2014 — to earn the New York market. The largest market they have yet to attain is the southeast, and I have a sense that is where most of their attention resides.
Meanwhile, the SEC can wait because they already claim most of that region, and focus elsewhere for their expansion if they even choose to do so.
While it’s fun to dream of what the Big Ten could look like down the road, it feels as though more additions are still a ways out. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith confirmed with Eleven Warriors when he said “at this point, we are not looking at (expansion). We decided that we were going to pause and integrate USC and UCLA. We looked at schools across the country, and there is a list of them.”
Safe to say, exciting times and more expansion are coming for the Michigan Wolverines and the Big Ten Conference.