I like seeing the thoughtful discussion here, because I think the viability of this idea goes a long way to defining the fate of the current BE. The more viable this type of a conference is, the more likely the split becomes, IMO, because these schools would enjoy it if they could a) maintain the level of money and exposure they'd get under the 16 team model while also b) affirming a more unified, less -politically hostile environment for directing their own affiars.
So, some questions I think need to be addressed first to reach something of resolution.
1) Whither ND? Most think they'd opt for partnership with the new Big East football schools (if allowed) because of better facilities and likely more prestige and exposure, if not money. Others think that would either not be allowed or that staying with the Catholic schools would allow the Irish an end to all speculation and influence from the other football conferences. I'm unaware of the facilities matter (track, soccer fields, lockers, etc) with the non-1-A members but I think this "Big North" (CYO, whatever) could earn ALMOST as much money for basketball as the 1-A group would IF ND was involved and, of course, depending on other new members. Thoughts, here?
2) Whither UMass? Is UMass a more marketable entity than, say, Holy Cross? Clearly, yes. Yet I think the stability and shared sense of institutional size and mission would go a long way to shaping this new conference. UMass may not be 1-A bound any time soon, but what about 2015? The moment they appear close to what UConn was before jumping up, they become a target for the expansion-candidate-poor/market-hungry BE. I think the issue here is not one of "Is UMass a candidate for the Big North, but whether or not the Big North feels that UMass would be a permanent fit or the step-child to another Big East membership fiasco. I also think there's a reason that the BE reached to take in Marquette and DePaul versus UMass and, say, Charlotte, to begin with.
3) What is the cost advantage to a larger conference that DOES NOT play 1-A football? Is there some financial advantage in travel and/or scheduling for bball, soccer and more that says a 12 team model is better than 10 or 8? Some of this would be dependent on the value of the new markets, I know.
4) Given thatb last part of #3, might Dayton be left out? Like Many, I see Xavier as the first pick of this expansion draft, but considering the other markets out there wonder if the attractiveness of the Dayton program, which is so close to Cincinnatti, begins to fade. In addition to the schools mentioned above, I think Sienna warrants consideration, too.
5) Whither St. Louis? Might this school/market be simply too far given the number of candidates between South Bend and Boston? (Perhaps I should add the caveat of "Is there another Catholic candidate I'm unaware of between Cincy and St. Louis that could fill this gap?")
6) What do above candidates Dayton, Georgetown, Villanova, Holy Cross and Duquense have in common? Answer: 1-AA football. Does the thought of a possible Big North football conference become valuable, a distraction or a non-factor?
A few things here...
I tend to think that after looking at the new schools the BE will add for 2005, that Notre Dame will likely choose the non-football members if a split occurred.
Notre Dame justs has too little in common with the likes of Cincy, South Florida, Louisville, Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, WVU and Syracuse as a whole. The remaining non-fotball schools seem like a better fit and would allow the school to compete for alumni in markets like Chicago, Milwaukee, NY, DC and Philadelphia.
As for I-AA football...
Within the current Big East, only Villanova cometes with a high number of scholorships within I-AA. Georgetown is in the Patriot. With no football programs at Depaul, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. Johns (dropped football) or Providence, it's unlikely that they would want anytihng to do with football.
It is football of course that has led to so much of the tension within the Big East (the Big East did not unanimously want Rutgers, WVU and later VA Tech to join for all-sports).