115 years ago today, on February 8th, 1896, the Big Ten conference was originally formed as faculty members from seven universities met to establish the first formal conference in the history of college football.
The seven universities were the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin.
Originally named the "Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives", but more commonly known as the "Western Conference" because the former name was nearly impossible for anyone to remember, the "Big Ten" name wasn't formally adopted until 1987 when the conference was incorporated (a probable indication of how long it takes to get anything changed amongst the conference members).
Indiana University and the State University of Iowa (later the University of Iowa) joined the conference in 1899. Michigan would leave the conference in 1908 while Ohio State joined in 1912. Michigan would re-join in 1917, which would also mark the first year the conference was known as the "Big Ten".
The University of Chicago, concluding that football was for ruffians and scoundrels, dropped football in 1939 and left the the conference in 1946, preferring to concentrate on academics, the real result being that no one knows about the University of Chicago except really rich smart people. (SI 1954 - Football as an "infernal nuisance", an interesting take on the Chicago matter.)
Michigan State College - later to become Michigan State University - joined in 1949. The result was a group of schools that would remain unchanged until the addition of Penn State in 1990, although they didn't start playing football as a conference member until 1993, a three-year lag that seems incredibly silly by today's standards. (Penn State's addition to the conference didn't go all that well - they were not as welcomed as Nebraska has been - largely due to a media leak at a time long before Facebook and Twitter were invented, and the internets had yet to be discovered by the media. Funny, I thought all bad things were internet related.)
Nebraska will formally join the conference in July of 2011. Husker fans have a lot to learn about their new home, and CN will spent the next few months providing the background and history you'll need to successfully argue debate with Big Ten fans, no matter what school they may represent.
So Happy Birthday Big Ten Conference! You might be the oldest, but it appears you've aged pretty well!