LINCOLN, Neb. - The passionate fan base, storied football program, and geographic proximity to the rest of the conference - all these factors helped make Nebraska an attractive candidate for the Big Ten's expansion plans.
But Nebraska had one other criterion vital to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the conference's presidents and chancellors: membership in the AAU.
No, not the Amateur Athletic Union, which is commonly associated with youth basketball, but rather the Association of American Universities.
"All the Big Ten schools are AAU members," Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said. "I doubt that our application would've been accepted had we not been a member of the organization."
So what is the AAU, and why is it so important to the Big Ten members?
It's a group of 63 elite research universities in the United States and Canada. Membership is through invitation only, and the group's primary focus is evaluating and developing the top graduate programs, not necessarily undergrad programs, spokesman Barry Toiv said.
Membership "is generally considered a sign that a research university has arrived as a top research university," Toiv said.
The AAU is basically a facilitator for collaboration among these universities, a venue where the top officials from member schools gather to exchange ideas and discuss the prevalent issues in education, Toiv said.
Now that Nebraska will be joining the Big Ten, Perlman said that will make avenues of collaboration with the other Big Ten schools a little easier to travel.
"The Big Ten for a long time has been known for being the only conference that has really had a strong academic component through the Committee on Institutional Cooperation," Perlman said. "Right now, in research, in trying to solve the problems and challenges that face our country, it requires big research projects with our interdisciplinary teams with a lot of folks focusing from various perspectives on the issues.
Perlman added that Penn State's seamless integration into the conference from a research perspective helped make his decision to switch conferences easy.
Plus, AAU membership is crucial for recruiting elite faculty.
The Big Ten is the only conference that can say all of its members belong to the AAU. It's a valuable feather in the Big Ten's cap.
Most schools that have been mentioned as possible expansion candidates already belong to the AAU, including Missouri, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Syracuse and Rutgers. Missouri seems to be out of luck at the moment. Texas is an AAU member but according to multiple reports is deciding whether to join the Pac-10.
Notre Dame and Connecticut are not AAU members but would like to be. So in the hubbub over who else might be invited to join the Big Ten, know that if a school has the black mark of "not being an AAU member," it likely isn't by choice.
"It is perhaps the most elite organization in higher education," Connecticut spokesman Michael Kirk said. "You'd probably be hard-pressed to find a major research university that didn't want to be a member of the AAU."
In the case of Notre Dame, the school has a sterling reputation for its undergraduate education. But only in recent years under President John Jenkins has there been a significant push to become a leading research and graduate university. Notre Dame would love to be an AAU member to solidify its status.