CHICAGO -- From the minute the Big Ten announced its expansion study, many believed the league would only look at candidates that are members of the Association of American Universities.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't discuss any specific expansion candidates Tuesday, but he stressed the importance of AAU membership for the conference.
"It's very important," Delany said. "AAU membership is an important part of who we are. It was an important part of who we are [when the Big Ten added] Penn State, and it's an important aspect of what makes an institution a research institution, an undergraduate school, a school that serves the public at a high level."
Asked if AAU membership was mandatory for expansion candidates, Delany said, "We're not there. I'm not going to qualify or disqualify, but it's a very important factor."
All 11 current Big Ten institutions are part of the AAU, a collection of 63 leading public and private research institutions in the United States and Canada. The Big Ten's last known expansion target, Notre Dame, is not an AAU member but brings a very strong academic reputation to the table.
Most of the rumored Big Ten expansion candidates -- Rutgers, Nebraska, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse -- are part of the AAU, while Connecticut is not.
"It's very important," Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith said of AAU membership. "But at the same time, the academic reputation is more important.
"The academic piece of this, do not underestimate that."