The "Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives" name never really stuck... the group was more commonly referred to as the Western Conference, but that gave way to names based on the number of member schools when Indiana and Iowa joined in 1899, forming the "Big Nine."
Over the next quarter-century, the membership -- and name -- fluctuated a bit. Michigan dropped out in 1908. Ohio State was added in 1912. Then the Wolverines re-upped in 1917, bringing the membership (and name) to "Big 10."
The University of Chicago dropped out in 1946, making the decision to downplay varsity athletics. They were replaced in 1950 by Michigan State. That ten team group would remain in effect until 1990, when the addition of Penn State brought the number of member institutions to eleven. But branding was a much bigger concern in the 90s than it was in the early part of the century -- the only name change made to reflect the Nittany Lions' addition was a slight tweak to the official logo, which contains a subtle "11" in the space on either side of the "T" in "Ten."
AcademicsThe Big Ten schools are all members of the Association of American Universities, a select group distinguished by their excellence in research and teaching. About.com's guide to College Admissions has profiles of the Big Ten from an academic perspective.
Basketball PowersIndiana is the most successful basketball program in the Big Ten, with five national titles on the Hoosiers' resume -- three under the legendary and controversial Bob Knight, who holds the all-time record for wins at in Division I Men's basketball. But Indiana is going through a down period and faces NCAA sanctions as a result of violations committed by ex-coach Kelvin Sampson.
Michigan State owns two national titles, winning in 1979 with a team led by Ervin "Magic" Johnson and in 2000. Wisconsin (1941), Ohio State (1960) and Michigan (1989) have been crowned once.
In recent years, Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers and Thad Matta's Ohio State Buckeyes have been major contenders. Ohio State lost to Florida in the 2007 National Title game, and Illinois was the runner-up to Carolina in 2005.
The ACC/Big Ten ChallengeTeams from the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference match up each year as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a made-for-television event that creates some buzz during the non-conference portion of the schedule, when most power teams are beating up on local competition.
The 2008 challenge will be held on December 1-3, with all the games televised on ESPN networks. The ACC has a 9-0 record in the challenge to date.
The Big Ten TournamentThe Big Ten Championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament go to the winner of the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin won the 2008 Tournament, held at the United Center in Chicago.