SPRINGFIELD -- Two suburban Republicans are pushing to make another Illinois university a Big Ten Conference school in hopes of keeping students from traveling out of state to go to college.
State Sens. Matt Murphy of Palatine and Michael Connelly of Lisle have introduced a proposal that would create a commission to look into making one of the existing state universities a Big Ten school.
Connelly said Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville might be good candidates. SIUE falls into the St. Louis-area media market and SIU is centrally located, he said.
Northern Illinois University in DeKalb "would definitely be in the equation. But I think the Big Ten would say we already have a Chicago team," Connolly said, referring to the Big Ten's Northwestern University in Evanston.
What universities play in which conferences isn't up to state lawmakers, though. Colleges can only be admitted to the Big Ten with approval of at least 70 percent of the leaders of the 12 member universities, said Kerry B. Kenny, associate director for compliance at the conference.
Murphy and Connelly said they want to give students another Big Ten option if they don't get into the highly competitive existing conference schools, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern. The proposal states they would consider public schools only, not private ones.
"The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has become highly competitive to the point where we are seeing students with excellent grades and test scores get shut out of attending our in-state, public Big Ten school," Murphy said in the statement.
Connelly said he wants to bring another Big Ten option to Illinois as the demand for a brand-name college degrees increases.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, lampooned the proposal as a distraction and a futile effort.
"Ignoring the fact that the state doesn't have any authority over the Big Ten, I suppose it never hurts to wish and dream, but given our financial realities, I don't think the suburban taxpayers I represent would consider this a priority," Bush said in a statement.
The effort comes at a time when Republican lawmakers have pushed hard to curb state spending, and Illinois' public universities have struggled to weather budget cuts because of the state's terrible finances. Adding the services needed to attract the Big Ten Conference could cost more money.
Connelly noted other Midwest states have multiple Big Ten schools.
Michigan has two, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. So does Indiana, with Purdue University and University of Indiana.
The commission would be made up of higher education professionals, lawmakers, an Illinois resident paying out of state tuition to a Big Ten institution, and a student from Illinois who has left the state to attend another Big Ten institution.
It has been approved by a committee and faces further debate on the full Senate floor later this year.
Both Connelly and Murphy said the committee would look at the academic and athletic standards needed to become a Big Ten school, as well as find a way to pitch Illinois schools to the conference for consideration.