With Louisville and Rutgers both announcing they are headed for greener pastures, and Boise State deciding any pasture is better than the Big East, the distraught conference is once again left scrambling.
Many schools have been rumored to be targets for the Big East as they try to stay above water, yet a seemingly logical university has not been mentioned very often, if at all.
The Northern Illinois Huskies, fresh off their Orange Bowl appearance, seem to have some of the attributes that a remodeled Big East would covet. For starters, their BCS bowl berth this season is not a one-time fluke. The Huskies have been a mid-major powerhouse for more than a decade. Since Joe Novak resurrected the former laughingstock program, NIU has received multiple bowl berths, as well as being a perennial title contender in the Mid-American Conference.
Secondly, the Huskies play in the third largest television market in the United States. While it's no secret Northern Illinois has played third fiddle to both Northwestern and the University of Illinois in the Chicago market for years, NIU is a relatively large school with an abundance of graduates living in the metropolitan area.
The Orange Bowl appearance has already raised the stature of the program in the eyes of the local market, and an inclusion in a premiere conference would push the program further as a source of pride for Chicago.
Along those lines, there is a distinct possibility of growth for the program that the Big East might not find in other schools. The aforementioned Wildcats and Illini have never exactly grasped the Chicago region with a stronghold that another school couldn't crack. It's not out of the realm of possibility that a Northern Illinois team, with a raised profile in a large conference, could become the predominant team in the market.
That should appeal to the Big East.
Huskie stadium is subpar and attendance at games hasn't been terrific. These are two issues that the Big East would have concerns about. However, given the enormous size of the market, increased interest in the program and corporate money could easily solve both of these issues in very short order.
The Big East has reached out to service academies, Fresno State and a bottom feeder such as UNLV. Isn't Northern Illinois a far better option than any of these schools?