Illinois Needs Another Big Ten School, Suburban Lawmakers Say

Andrew Pappas, Writer

Illinois State Senators Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) and Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) have introduced legislation in the state’s capitol to explore the possibility of a current in-state university joining the Big Ten.

Despite neither the state, nor its government officials have any bearing on the Big Ten Athletic Conference, Senate Bill 3526 is still up for consideration in state congress. The bill would create a research program with the sole purpose of deciding whether this is a workable goal or not.

Connelly and Murphy see it as a way to keep more quality Illinois high school students paying for their higher education in their home state. “There are a lot of kids with 34 ACT scores and high class rank that are rejected by the University of Illinois,” Connelly told The Naperville Sun. “[They] wind up going to places like Kansas and Indiana and other states.”

Photo courtousy big ten conference
State lawmakers would like to see another Illinois school in the conference.

The Big Ten website boasts that “the pursuit of academic excellence prevails as the definitive goal” of its schools. While that ideal can certainly be argued, it also does not seem as though any other public university in the state would be able to fit in academically. Last year’s US News “National University Rankings” showed no Big Ten school lower than 101st, while Southern Illinois University (SIU) and Northern Illinois University (NIU) are tied at 177th.

Also, every current Big Ten school, other than recently-added Nebraska, is a member of the research organization called the Association of American Universities, an international organization of leading research universities. Neither NIU nor SIU are members.

Athletically speaking, NIU is the only other in-state school with a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team and a Division I basketball team.

Connelly admits that these smaller in-state schools would need major advancements, both academically and athletically, and they could achieve those with help from the state. This new project may take upwards of a decade, but he insists the efforts must begin now.

Connelly also said he was not sure how much the Big Ten endeavor would cost, but that is something a commission—composed of higher education professionals, legislators, and in-state and out-of-state students at Big Ten schools—would handle and report on in January if the bill passes.