Northern Illinois University, currently a strong Mid-American Conference member, once dreamed big during a past era of conference realignment. After being independent upon their departure from the MAC, they decided to join the Big West in 1993. Why in the world would NIU do that? Because they seriously thought of it as a stepping stone to the Big 8 Conference.
From the '93 Chicago Tribune article:
Geography aside, all parties at Northern see the Big West arrangement as temporary, a step in a process that will end in Northern Illinois being the easternmost stop in a Midwestern league. Specifically, the Big Eight.
Nebraska and Northern Illinois playing for a trip to the Orange Bowl? Snicker if you will. So what if the required jump rivals anything achieved by Superman.
At Northern Illinois, with its enrollment of 25,000 students, university President John E. La Tourette gets paid to dream such dreams.
"This institution always had high aspirations," La Tourette said. "We've added a law school, we've added an engineering school. We've added a campus in Hoffman Estates. We've had a lot of dreams at this institution, and in the last 20 years, many of them have been realized."
La Tourette then cautioned, "This one may be tougher."
NIU had a Heisman Trophy finalist in LeShon Johnson in 1993, but went 4-7. They also went 4-7 in 1994 and then 3-8 in 1995 before crawling back to the MAC.
As the Big 8 is no more, joining a big boy conference is no longer a dream deferred for the Huskies, but perhaps a dream forgotten. When NIU honored La Tourette in 2010, they failed to mention the Big 8 dream or even his impact on the sports program at all.