Illinois worthy of 2nd public school in B1G?

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
3:15
PM ET
We're not worthy! We're not worthy!

-- Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, residents of Aurora, Ill.

Wayne and Garth referred to sharing oxygen with acclaimed rocker Alice Cooper, not whether their home state is worthy of a second public institution in the Big Ten. Two Illinois state senators from near Aurora are exploring the feasibility of having another public school gain consideration from the Big Ten, which has added three new members since 2010.

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
Keith Gillett/Icon SMIIllinois has two schools in the Big Ten -- the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, coached by Tim Beckman, and Northwestern -- but two state senators want to look into adding another public school from the state to the B1G.
Illinois State in the Big Ten? Southern Illinois-Edwardsville rubbing elbows with Michigan and Ohio State? Northern Illinois taking its successful football team to four or five Big Ten venues per season, rather than one or two?

In terms of likely expansion scenarios, any of these would rank pretty low. But Illinois Sens. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) and Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) want to find out.

Murphy and Connelly have introduced a bill that would establish a task force to study whether the state has a second public institution that could merit consideration from the Big Ten. The bill, which has bipartisan support, passed the senate's higher education committee on March 19. Murphy told ESPN.com he hopes to get full senate approval in the next few weeks.

If signed into law, the task force would begin working this summer and have a report for the General Assembly in January.

There are gargantuan hurdles ahead, namely whether the Big Ten would want to expand again and consider a school in a state where it already has two members (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern, a private institution.). But the senators simply want to gather information, and their plan stems from a good place.

"It's an annual rite of passage for us to get phone calls from parents of kids who have great ACTs, great GPAs and they couldn't get into the University of Illinois," Connelly told ESPN.com on Monday. "There's an annual trek, probably thousands of kids from the [Chicago] suburbs head to Iowa, head to Indiana, head to Missouri, head to Kansas, head to Michigan State. That drains us of talent and it requires many of these parents to pay out-of-state tuition, which far exceeds what they spend at a state school.

"We want to keep our best students here in Illinois. So we're looking at it. Can we do this?"

Murphy notes that Illinois is more populous than both Michigan and Indiana, and each have two state institutions in the Big Ten. But after the University of Illinois, which has stringent in-state admission standards, students don't have a second option that features both strong academics and a strong large-college experience, like Big Ten schools offer.

"We'd really like to model something after Michigan," Connelly said. "You have Ann Arbor, which is really an elite school. Michigan State is also a very good school, hard to get into, but it’s the kind of school that kids with 29s, 31s, 32s [on their ACTs] are getting into."

The task force would include government staffers and would not generate significant expenses. The senators have yet to contact the Big Ten about their proposal, but Murphy doesn't expect the league to slam the door on them. He has spoken to University of Illinois administrators about the bill and they were "open to the idea."

The Big Ten declined to comment about the bill other than stating that any written application to join the league must be approved by at least 70 percent of the league's Council of Presidents/Chancellors. After Rutgers and Maryland officially join the conference in July, candidates would need 10 of the 14 schools to say yes.

"One of the most important things is getting from the Big Ten as accurate an assessment as possible of their model or what it is they require for consideration," Murphy said. "You start with what are they looking for and then work your way back there. Which one of our schools most consistently resembles that now? There's a lot here that is potentially thorny. It's not like this is any slam dunk."

You start with what are they looking for and then work your way back there. Which one of our schools most consistently resembles that now? There's a lot here that is potentially thorny. It's not like this is any slam dunk.

Illinois Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) on the possibility of adding a second public school in Illinois to the Big Ten.
No, it's not. For starters, the Big Ten has made it clear that candidates must be part of the Association of American Universities to gain consideration. The only Illinois schools in the AAU right now are Illinois-Champaign, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, a founding member of the Big Ten that stopped competing in the league in 1939.

The senators recognize the AAU factor and want to see what criteria other state institutions would need to meet. It's possible programs or resources could be consolidated to enhance a school's profile, Murphy said.

"Can you create an academic environment that is consistent with other Big Ten schools," Connelly asked. "And at that point, what would it take athletically?"

A lot of money. Murphy said the idea isn't to sink more taxpayer dollars into one school. But Big Ten athletic budgets and those of, say, Northern Illinois or Southern Illinois aren't comparable.

There's also the issue of demographics, which motivated the Maryland/Rutgers expansion. The Big Ten wants to add new markets for its upcoming television contract.

"One of our fastest growing state universities, especially in popularity, is Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, which is right there in the St. Louis media market," Connelly said.

Other schools that should be part of the study include Illinois State, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. State Sen. Napoleon Harris, a former Northwestern football player, mentioned Chicago State as an option, Murphy said.

"SIU-Edwardsville is the St. Louis media market, Chicago State is the Chicago media market," Murphy said. "Northern Illinois has football team that is close to being ready. Illinois State has campus infrastructure and the name.

"I don't have a favorite as I go into it."

The Big Ten's recent expansion activity, after decades of relative stability, motivated the bill.

"Once upon a time the Big Ten, if you weren't Notre Dame, they weren't going to consider expanding," Murphy said. "But at this point they've added Rutgers. The dynamic is changing.

"You'll never make anything like this happen if you say it's never going to happen. We're not losing anything by trying."

If true, no complaints here.

Party on, guys.

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