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What the Association of American Universities (AAU) has to do With Conference Expansion

A debrief on the group that could play the biggest part in the realignment race and its importance in the Big Ten.

With the news of Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC being finalized on Friday, we explored the possibilities of potential Big Ten expansion and schools the conference would consider. However, schools looking to join the Big Ten have to jump through a major: they need to be a member of the Association of American Universities, or AAU. 

This group has the power to put any aspiring Big Ten school’s dreams on hold, and conversely can make some universities' existence and operation easier both on and off the field.


Founded in 1900, the AAU is a group of 66 American universities who “transform lives through education, research and innovation,” according to their mission statement

According to their website, the AAU receives most of the federal funding for research that will improve public health and contribute to the country’s economic strength. 

The AAU is led by president Barbara Snyder, current president of Case Western Reserve University. Synder and an 11-member board of directors work together to approve budgets and adopt policies.


Membership in the AAU is by invitation only, and a Membership Committee evaluates non-members and current members for invitation status periodically. 

In order for schools to be considered, the universities have to pass two phases of indicators, with requirements ranging from memberships in national academies such as the National Academies of Science and Engineering and the number of research and scholarship Ph.D’s approved every year.


Well I’m glad you asked! According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, the Big Ten is ONLY interested in adding schools that are a part of the AAU. 

The conference’s mission is rooted in success both on and off the field, and even when the conference was founded in 1895, the emphasis on the student part of student-athlete was paramount. 

Former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney said that AAU membership was “an important part of who [the Big Ten is],” back in 2010 at spring meetings. 

In 2011, when Nebraska was planning on their move to the Big Ten, controversy rose when they were expelled from the AAU, the first time the group expelled a university in 111 years. The expulsion didn’t severely affect Nebraska’s chances of entering (they were already approved before expulsion), but it does dim the allure of the university in the eyes of the Big Ten.

Currently, every member of the Big Ten (except for Nebraska) is an AAU member. In order to expand the conference, the Big Ten would want any new school to be  part of the AAU. The only exception to that rule being Notre Dame. 

As the Big 12 potentially prepares for implosion, here are the Big 12 schools that are a part of the AAU:

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Iowa State (1958)

Kansas (1909)

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Joining the Big Ten conference has its major benefits, with the notoriety of it being the most stable conference North of the Appalachian Mountains. However, the AAU is a massive hurdle for conferences to overcome.


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