If Cal-Poly and UC Davis want to stay in a conference (the Big West) that doesn't sponsor football (and the Big West does offer great advantages to California schools), then they almost have to accept the fact that they are largely at the mercy of external circumstances with regard to Football. And theat may mean that they have to consider the possibility of "going it alone" as an independent. This may not be so bad, especially if 1-AA goes to 12-game schedules there will be lots of teams (Big Sky, Gateway) needing to fill slots in their schedule with OOC games. And since the GWFC does NOT have a 1-AA playoff autobid now, that is not something they give up as an independent.
Right now the geography of the Mid-Con is a joke. That has lent to it being perceived by all as a "move-up" conference, i.e. a temporary 1-AA parking place for your program until you wrangle an invitation from a more stable environment. The most recent Mid-con expansion (NDSU, SDSU, IPFW) seem to try to "tighten up" a bit. IPFW has a sister school (IUPUI) in the conference, and NDSU and SDSU (although stretching the conference northwestward) came as a package of natural rivals (with the potential of adding NDU and SDU down the road).
Building rivalries (establishing some reason to want to maintain a long-term relationship with other conference members) will move the Mid-Con away from the "move-up" conference status, and create more stability.
I was not aware (unitl reading it here) that NDSU and SDSU had exit fees imposed, upon joining. Do other members have the same ?
It makes sense that if the Mid-Con is staking out the Dakotas as part of its strategic future, they want some protection against the Big Sky expanding and stealing NDSU and SDSU in the near future. If SUU (I think they are perhaps 800 miles away from any other member) were to get a Big Sky invitation, they would be permitted to leave without a penalty. Same with Centenary.
What the Mid-Con office may be heading toward is tightening up their footprint to something approaching two other very successful midwestern conferences (MVC and Horizon), and having a shared 1-AA football conference (the Gateway).
You would think there is NO WAY that the Mid-Con (sponsor of the GWFC) had much leverage to dictate NDSU's / SDSU's long term football affiliation (via an exit fee), as long as Mid-Con member Western Illinois plays in the Gateway (rather than the GWFC).
Here is why I think NDSU / SDSU to the Gateway will deefinitely happen -
In the last few years, I don't think I can cite a single example where a conference started requesting information on schools, and didn't expand by inviting SOMEBODY (maybe not ALL the schools from which info was rquested, but THERE WAS AN EXPANSION).
NDSU and SDSU are a package. You don't want to break up a made-to-order rivalry like that, and neither school wants to move and leave the other behind, and that is clear to all.
Geographically it is a very nice fit, contiguous to the heart of the Gateway (especially Northern Iowa).
So once enough "due diligence" is performed, the deal will be consumated, and it didn't take very long at all when Youngstown State was added. WKU is bugging out pretty soon (can't remember if it's next season or the one after that), so that Gateway would want to bring the Dakota States in just as WKU departs. There is no point in this procedure being "drawn out".