I don't know how widely the term is used, but, at least one Rag writer (Chuck Schoffner) uses it regularly - "big four" to refer to Drake, UNI, ISU and UI. Regretably, the sad state of our MBB and FB has allowed the MVC schools to be more than competitive with us in recent years. But, overall, does the general public really equate the four institutions? For this purpose, I'll accept equating the Big 12 and Big 10/11 institutions.
“We’ve got a pretty good football conference, and we’ve got a pretty good conference overall. We’re still walking around with our heads held high and our chest out, about that.” Paul Rhoads
I don't take it as meaning all four schools are on the same level, I just take it to mean the "Big Four" schools that most Iowans are interested in. For me personally, that is correct because I like to read about the ISU, Drake, UNI and Iowa.
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Iowa State vs. George Mason (Diamond Head Classic)