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ROSEMONT, Ill. – In a room on the ground floor of its sparkling new headquarters, the Big Ten Conference is putting the final touches on its version of Cooperstown.
It's not quite a Hall of Fame. The Big Ten Experience is a shrine to the conference's athletic and academic achievements. Fans will be able to relive some of their favorite moments through a series of interactive exhibits when the museum opens in the spring or summer.
"This kind of exhibit exists in many of our campuses, and it allows us to create a zone for capturing the past and telling our story," Commissioner Jim Delany said.
It's a story that dates to January 1895, when leaders from Purdue, the University of Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin gathered at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago to outline a blueprint for administering athletics.
An opening date for the museum has not been set, but in a preview last week, this was clear: At a time when players are trying to unionize, with former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter at the front of the pack, and with former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon leading a federal lawsuit seeking millions from the NCAA, the Big Ten Experience is focused simply on achievement.
The museum is about the success of the athletes and teams along with their accomplishments away from the field. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor given to one male and female from each school based on their accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. All are recognized here.
The first thing fans will notice when they walk in is a giant screen in the middle of the room. Press a button and a three-minute film on Indiana's Assembly Hall pops up. Press another and watch 80,000 fans morphing into human pogo sticks at Wisconsin as "Jump Around" blasts through Camp Randall Stadium. Each Big Ten member submitted a video providing the back story behind a tradition or a sport.
Turn to one wall and behold a mock basketball court with each school's logo, a button by each one allowing fans to hear calls of major moments. For Michigan, it's Rumeal Robinson hitting two free throws in the closing seconds to lift the Wolverines to the 1989 NCAA championship.
One touchscreen lists every Big Ten and NCAA championship team and individual winner for the current academic year. On another, visitors can see everything from tight finishes in football and basketball to huge dunks and Heisman Trophy winners and Rose Bowl highlights. Every Sports Illustrated cover featuring a Big Ten team can be seen on the screen, too.
An interactive video game allows fans to catch a football from, say, an Ohio State quarterback or try to stop a soccer ball or hockey puck.
There are also athletes' personal stories, and details about community outreach along with the research and innovations taking place on campuses. Notable Big Ten alumni such as Gerald Ford (Michigan) and Neil Armstrong (Purdue) are featured.
"When we moved into the new building, we were thinking about our 100-year history and thinking about the student-athletes," Big Ten chief communications officer Diane Dietz said. "We realized it was just in file cabinets and in people's heads, and we thought our schools do it so effectively. Each one of them tells their story so effectively, but nobody was bringing to life the conference history and the conference story."
The museum's opening date has not yet been announced.