This was an excellent and well researched post that I felt wasn't given enough attention, so I am responding to it and bumping it. I think the poster did a good job in looking at the factors that lead schools in finding "peers". I hope to add a bit on those lines.
It points out a couple of things that maybe we should be looking at --- will the Gateway conference eventually be an FBS all sports conference? What will happen to the MVC privates? Will they go east? Pull in replacement members? or will they be forced to leave a defunct MVC to join the Horizon?
There has been a lot posted on forming a Southern-based league of private institutions, but I think that the Midwest could put the pieces together to form a solid private conference of their own. Right now there are (outside the FBS) 3 Midwestern conferences- Missouri Valley, Horizon, and Summit. Reshuffling them can form 3 more appropriate conferences based on institutional and academic fit:
Missouri Valley Conference:
All private institutions, and includes teams directly located in most major Midwestern markets (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Omaha). The conference would include three ranked national (i.e. doctoral/research) universities by US News: #82 St. Louis, #112 Dayton, and #112 Loyola. The other universities are in their own ranking for schools who only offer up to a Master's degree, and also for just the Midwest region. Their rankings: #1 Creighton, #2 Xavier, #3 Valpo, #4 Butler, #4 Drake, #6 Bradley, #10 Evansville, #25 Detroit Mercy.
I think one difference between the southern "Magnolia" scenarios that myself and others have presented and this scenario, is that ours end up with all-sports conferences. This scenario certainly helps the region overcome years of non-sensical branding, but their are several problems with the privates list.
I know you hit this in your disclimer, but I am adding a little info about Xavier, Dayton, and St. Louis. All 3 joined the A10 because it is higher in the pecking order than the MVC. A10 members are considered much higher rated academically and have much larger endowments. The conference has been a powerhouse BB conference for far longer than the MVC and has widespread east coast viewership. IMO, this is in preparation for the BE split. I think when the BE splits, you'll see them raid the A10 for these schools and a few others to rebuild.
Creighton and Bradley are two schools that should be on the BE BB conference's short list. They are much more advanced BB schools than the rank and file Horizon members. That said, the remaining schools should make for a very solid conference, in time.
North Dakota State
South Dakota State
All of these except Wichita State sponsor football. Most are tier 3 or 4 national universities.
I think the advantage of looking at public schools is that we have a lot of data from schools that have made the jump. Public schools tend to get current students to foot a part of the bill in student fees and get alumni to foot the bill for much of the rest of the costs. There is a limit to what it palitable to students in fees. Tier 3 & 4 schools also tend not to have as many rich people per alumni as tier 1 & 2 schools do, so they really have to offset that by having a larger alumni base. This boils down to it being much more difficult for a smaller school (say 8K to 15K enrollment) to generate the funds for an FBS jump than say a 15K to 50K enrollment school. Add in the fact that NCAA requirements are 17K in paid attendence and that a huge chunk of attendance is from the student body and you can reach a number of mostly safe guidelines. To me, 20K looks like the golden safe number if you have a stadium on campus or within 2-5 minutes of campus.
My take on these schools is that a number could jump to FBS comfortably tomorrow if they upgraded their stadiums and a conference was available, most want to do it sooner or later, and that for some it would be an ill-advised dream today.
Illinois State (20K enrollment 13K Stadium)
Missouri State (22K enrollment 16K Stadium)
Southern Illinois (23K enrollment 17K Stadium)
Shaky but probably could do it.
Wichita State (15K enrollment 30K stadium - currently non-fooball)
Youngstown State (13K enrollment strong FCS program 21K stadium small DMA)
North Dakota State (13K enrollment strong FCS program with momentum 19K stadium)
North Dakota (14K enrollment 13.5K stadium)
Northern Iowa (14K enrollment 16K stadium)
South Dakota State (12K enrollment 16K Stadium)
Western Illinois (14K enrollment 15K stadium)
FCS schools only at this point, IMO
South Dakota (9K enrollment 10K stadium)
Indiana State (10K enrollment 13K stadium)
Eastern Illinois (12K enrollment 10K Stadium)
Southern Illinois Edwardsville (13K enrollment non-football)
Southern Indiana (10K enrollment non-football)
Nebraska-Omaha (15K enrollment. Foolishly (IMO) downgrading to NAIA.)
I think several FBS schools in the region would be good candidates to join a Gateway all-sports. Northern Illinois, Lousiana Tech, and Arkansas State probably would want in. Ball State might be interested, but my gut feeling is they would not. ULL and UNT might, but they are really expanding the footprint. FBS candidates UTSA, Lamar, and Texas State might want in. FCS schools like SHSU might be a good upgrade candidate.
The last conference gathers up all the rest of the Tier 3 or 4 schools who do not sponsor football:
The remnants of the Summit League are Centenary, Oral Roberts, and Southern Utah. These three could either find new homes or try to add some appropriate schools in the area (Houston Baptist? UTPA?) and form a more regional conference.
I think div II Missou-STL is an upgrade possibility as well.