MORGANTOWN - What was maybe the next big thing relative to conference expansion in college athletics was of little significance when it happened in late April.
For the first time in its 111 years of existence, the Association of American Universities, a group of the very best research institutions in the United States and Canada, removed a member.
That member was the University of Nebraska, which had been in the AAU for 102 years, only to see that end when a two-thirds majority decided to shuck the Cornhuskers. The school is still a fine institution, and in a candid moment after the announcement administrators confessed they thought the day was coming for about 10 years.
That it came when it came was curious, to say the least.
The Nebraska athletic brand had been welcomed into the Big Ten Conference to begin competition in the coming athletic calendar. The 11 Big Ten schools that were in the conference before Nebraska were and are AAU members. No other conference has all of its members in the AAU. That's the sort of stuff people like to puff their chests about, and for good reason.
When the Big Ten sent the expansion wheels spinning oh, so long ago, it was Commissioner Jim Delany who said, "AAU membership is an important part of who we are. It was an important part of who we are when we 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."
In short, the AAU is important in the Big Ten.
Many of the Big Ten's leaders were on the record saying something similar and expressing a desire to keep the membership exclusive to AAU schools. Sure enough, when the conference really dug in and started sincerely thinking about what schools and how many it might invite, the top names were Nebraska and Missouri from the Big 12 and Pitt and Rutgers from the Big East.
They were all a part of what was the then-63-member AAU. Pitt, Rutgers and Missouri remain.
Delaney and the Big Ten remain supportive of Nebraska, though they really have no other choice at this point, and say the AAU membership isn't all that important. And in the end, the school was only two votes shy of avoiding its ejection. So maybe it's just not a big deal.
But this is big-time college athletics. There's always more.
Begin with something for conspiracy fans. Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said earlier this month all of the Big 12 schools, where the Cornhuskers were once at home, voted for the erstwhile member. Curiously, not all of the Big Ten schools did.
Still, Nebraska was about as close as it could get and not only figured it was coming, but believed it was because the ranking system didn't deliver enough weight to the school's agricultural research and also devalued the medical school because it was separated from the campus.
Whatever the case, the Big Ten/AAU association is no longer exclusive. We're also looking at another six to eight months of constructive exploration Delany commissioned around this time last year, when he said his conference would do its homework for 12-18 months and maybe make a move if it improves the conference. The parameters for what constitutes improvement have, in theory, now changed.