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The conference expanded its footprint further in 2012 when the COP/C approved formal membership applications from the University of Maryland and Rutgers University on November 19 and 20, respectively. Maryland and Rutgers became official Big Ten members on July 1, 2014, giving the conference almost 9,500 students participating in intercollegiate athletics and more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams.

While academics have always played an integral role in the conference, presidents of the Big Ten member institutions formalized the primacy of academics with the establishment of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) in 1958. The CIC was formed as an academic consortium of all Big Ten universities and founding conference member Chicago. In 2013, the 15 schools currently constituting the CIC produced over $10 billion in funded research, $4 billion more than any other conference.

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Eleven of the thirteen in the Big Ten (Purdue and Nebraska excepted) are considered "" (although Purdue is often ranked in the top half of the Big Ten and many of its programs are in the top ten nationally). Each Big Ten institution (Nebraska excepted) is a member of the and is ranked in the top-100 and the top-200. Nebraska joined the AAU in 1909 but was removed in April 2011 when the AAU disallowed data points to be included in the AAU formula and began to decrease the weight given to agricultural research. Commissioner Jim Delany stated that Nebraska's removal from the AAU would have no bearing upon their Big Ten membership. Nebraska does, however, lead the NCAA with a record of 314 Academic All-Americans (followed by Notre Dame with 221). Currently, no Division I conference is composed exclusively of AAU members. However, the , a Division III conference is composed of entirely AAU members.