The prevailing wisdom (outside of pure skepticism that it's one big speculative bubble) on Big Ten expansion is that it's being driven by the cash cow that is the Big Ten Network.
According to industry experts, the Big Ten Network receives between 70-80 cents per month from 17.6 million subscribers within its eight-state footprint, and between 5-10 cents per month from 27.5 million subscribers outside the region.
That's a huge difference between the Big Ten market and those untapped areas. Thus, expansion's goal is to increase the eight-state footprint and hike the number of customers who receive the network as part of their cable service's basic package.
A major reason why Nebraska and Missouri are interested is because there isn't Big Ten-style egalitarian revenue sharing in the Big XII. It's gotten to the point there where the University of Texas wants to start its own cable channel. While it may seem counter-intuitive to make Ohio State and Indiana equal partners, the Big Ten cartel has proven to be remarkably effective at rent seeking within its conference footprint. The dueling titans of Ohio State and Michigan have chosen to forgo short term profits in lieu of expanding the larger overall revenue pie for all.
While those questions remain the dominant underlying factor, there's at least token consideration going to other prerequisites for membership. I'm no fan of the Big Ten, but to their credit they're not the SEC. Big Ten schools by large value academics (as opposed to including a token Vanderbilt to deflect criticism in that regard), and they actually maintain some semblance of compliance with NCAA regulations (ditto). Simply put, they have self respect and can look themselves in the mirror in the morning.
No, this isn't just lip-service.
Don't misinterpret that quotation as a knock, when it's actually trying to make a very crucial distinction. It wasn't that any of the three candidates were sub-par academically; it's that they were fundamentally different in terms of academic missions. For example, TCNJ in Ewing has very selective admissions, and is a fine choice for its focused academic areas. That institution relative to Rutgers is like comparing apples to oranges.There are some similarities, but they're trying to accomplish completely different things for the most part. Everything doesn't necessary always have to be a competition in every respect.
That being said... I don't entirely agree with the article on that point. I can't speak for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, besides thinking that are both are very good academic schools. Academically Rutgers seems, from my perspective, to be in close alignment towards to research-centric mission of Big Ten schools. Also, other accounts of the 1989 process don't seem to jibe with this account. Because that specific academic claim seems so unintuitive (although, I'm speaking of the Rutgers of today, and not two decades ago), I have trouble fully accepting the Post-Gazette account on the merits. Rutgers is a good match on the university level, not just when it comes to statistics like APR and graduation success rate.
Keep that distinction in mind though, especially for when the topic of AAU membership is brought up as key criteria. When it's pointed out that candidates like Notre Dame and UConn aren't AAU members, than in itself isn't necessarily disqualifying criteria. Be careful not to use AAU membership as synonymous for "good academics". It's generally a reliable indicator of an emphasis there, but in reality refers to qualities that are closely related, but don't overlap entirely on any Venn diagram. Many good schools are AAU members, and vice versa, there's no inherent connection between the two. Some good smaller schools are only concerned with undergraduate education.
The other way that academics tie in to Big Ten membership are through its sister academic consortium known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). Any Rutgers alumni still pining for the Ivy League may sneer at the idea of laying down with so-called simple folk from the plains (they probably think Jersey Shore is representative, so we can have our fun with stereotypes too), but Rutgers will still have it's inter-library loan and Cooperative Exchange programs with Princeton. It doesn't make sense to dismiss a supposed magnet for research dollars that's done wonders of Penn State out of hand.
In 2008, Penn State spent $701 million on research and development, almost 50 percent of which was funded by the federal government through the partnership with the CIC.
We know the basics, but has anyone ever written a more thorough breakdown on that topic?
This all still will boil down to money in the end. If the likes of Rutgers, Missouri, and Nebraska, and possibly others are deemed an asset, then they'll end up joining. Otherwise, they won't. Don't be surprised though if Jim Delany and the Big Ten, who tend to have things go their way, end up having their cake and eating it too.