While understanding the dynamics of I-A independent status had changed drastically by the early 1990s (seemingly only Notre Dame didn't join a conference), why was NIU's objective (Big 8) scheduled to take two decades?
Actually, the proclaimation was made in 1984 to prepare for Big 8 membership by the year 2000. The year 2000 was an estimate as to how long it was going to complete the master facility plan at NIU (which included the state of the art 10,000 basketball arena) and roughly to build up the football program to a level attractive to the Big 8. The timeline of "2000" was more of a strategic objective for the university, rather than something which just pertained to athletics.
NIU's fatefull decision set the MAC back 10 years, and led to the addition of the unsuccessful Akron program to fill out the conference ranks. Bringing Akron into the MAC only had the effect of killing Kent State's program. Had NIU stayed put, the MAC's TV exposure would of been further along, and Marshall would have more likely stayed in the league with an even 12 members.