^Memphis and UCF would establish the Big East as a Southern Conference.
1/2 of the conference members in such an alignment would be in the shadows of very major football powers in competing BCS conferences --> SEC, ACC, and the Big 10. The following schools, which are powerhouses, will overshadow them quite a bit:
Thats a big load to overcome.
Memphis is a market of 1.5 million people (West Tennessee, all counties west of the Tennessee River in Tennessee). Memphis does not demonstrate that it would have much of a following east of that River. There is no statewide overlap for that school in market. It may have a small handfull of followers in the nearby Arkansas and Mississippi suburbs, but conventional wisdom demonstrates that Ole Miss, Miss State, U Ark, Ark State would dramatically overshadow a Memphis following outside the state's boundaries. If the U Memphis was a NFL Team, then it would go deep into Mississippi and Arkansas for following, picking up the mid-major metro of Little Rock (~600K and 140 miles to the west). But it is not and its way bigger competitors is at Memphis doors (state lines).
In 30 years it will have about 1.9 million people. The area between Memphis and Nashville is predominantly rural and will not grow, and perhaps may even lose people. The only place that this market will grow is around the City of Memphis, and the Memphis suburbs.
But this market isn't purely Memphis. You have Tennessee that is on the same footing as Memphis, as it has a statewide overlay (+ the UTenn Medical School is located in Memphis -- may be big allumni base there), plus Vandy may have some following there, as well as a very small followings for UT-Martin and perhaps Austin Peay (located just outside West Tennessee in the North in Clarksville), as well as Tenn State, and Tenn Tech, and MTSU that pick up a bit of following just immediately west of Nashville.
Now how does Memphis compare to Marshall?
That 1st or 2nd or even 3rd Team status in a broad market of 1.5 million that could grow to 1.9 million.
Not much different. Slightly bigger, but not much different.
West Virginia is 1.8 million. It won't grow much, that is true. Marshall is its 2nd Team. It would be in the shadow of WVU, that's true. But with this 2nd status, it being in the 2nd largest metro area of the state (Huntington at 280,000) and within 1 hour of the largest market (Charleston at 300,000), and as WVU is a small state, that 1.8 million is not far from Huntington. It has more potential to go statewide as a pure 2nd Team. I would conclude that their immediate market is 280,000, their regional market is ~600,000 (Hunt/Charleston), and their share of West Virginia is 900,000, with it being a 2nd Team throughout this 1.8 million populated state -- about the same status as Memphis.
They get ~30,000 at their games, about the same as Memphis. Their academics isn't much different, Memphis is a 4th Tier school, and Marshall is a Regional University. Both don't fit academically. But Marshall has demonstrated that it can put forth good football teams, beating #6 KSU, as well as an undefeated season. Memphis has had 1 bowl season in the last 30 years, and can demonstrate that attendance will be down in the down years.
Memphis is 800 miles from the NE Footprint. Marshall is in the near-northeast footprint. Bottom line is Marshall is more advantageous than Memphis, because of this.
UCF presents another issue. It too doesn't have good institutional fit. Its near USF. But in a combined coast to coast Central-Tampa Bay-Orlando greater market of 4.9 million, and it will grow, it will be competing against USF for promenence. This added to the sublime status of the triad -- UFla, FSU, and Miami. Texas has 4 BCS schools, 3 that are competitive, and one that's iffy, and 1 program that is non-BCS that is competitive. California has 4 BCS schools and 1 competitive non-BCS school. But it has twice the pop of Florida. Can Florida have 5 BCS schools? 4, yes, but I can't see 5.
UCF had a good record in bball, last year, but that was in the A-Sun. Its football team was not good last year, and they haven't had a good year since the late 90's with Duante Culpepper. They are not really as competitive since. Last year there attendance was ~24K. Less than Marshall. In 2002 it was 22K. In 2001 ~20K, There were 27 K in 2000, 22K in 1999, and 23 K in 1998. Its attendance isn't that much better than U Delaware, or for that matter, like Temple.
It advantages are its market and being a travel partner. Its disadvantages is that it would be Florida's 5th team (and Texas and California, which are quite bigger, demonstrate that 4 to 5 is the max you can have in their states). There's a potential that they could be another Temple or another Baylor. And also it would be a competitor to USF. Its also not a good institutional fit.
If the Big East drifts further into the south, it becomes a Defacto CUSA. It will be a shadow of three of the other 5 conferences. There will not be a majority of the teams out front in their region and could become more obscure.
I think there is actually more risk to expand 5 years from now, then there is to wait for 10 years to expand, and begin to plan for that expansion in 2010. You may just be interchanging one Temple for another. If this is the case, might as well keep them as they offer the advantage of the Philly market, even if they are a 2nd team, as well as the northeast footprint and a better institutional fit.