Not happening. No split for C-USA. just won't happen.
We will see. I am not prepared to gurantee anything will or won't happen. Certainly CUSA is no SWC, and that conference died. I think in terms of potentially unstable major conferences, CUSA is #1 today.
Saint Louis definitely isn't because they don't have football.
I have St. Louis potentially returning to CUSA East. The Eastern schools include many founding members of CUSA and they have always been quite receptive to having a hybrid conference up to the last expansion.
C-USA has eight core members centrally located within 500 miles of each other (Clockwise: Memphis, UAB, So Miss, Tulane, Houston, Rice, SMU, Tulsa). There are four outliers: Marshall, ECU, UCF, UTEP.
Yes, 3 outliers in the east.
You're suggesting something like this saves money:
WEST: UTEP, Tulsa, SMU, North Texas, Houston, Rice, Tulane, La Tech, UALR
EAST: ECU, UCF, Marshall, Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss, Charlotte, W. Kentucky, Middle Tenn.
Actually I have been trying to be as calculating as to what might be likely as I can in this post and not trying to say what I'd like to see happen with CUSA. I am anticipating a desire by both resulting conferences to be as conservative as possible initally.
WEST: UTEP, Tulsa, SMU, North Texas, Houston, Rice, Tulane, La Tech,
EAST: ECU, UCF, Marshall, Memphis, UAB, Southern Miss, Charlotte, + Temple (likely football only, with a small possiblity of all sports) + Army & Navy (as football only members) + UALR & St. Louis (as non=football members) and maybe + 1-2 Sunbelt schools (but I haven't included any specifics there in this thread that deals with a conservative approach).
Here's about four reasons it won't happen:
#1 - Tulane and Southern Miss.
Why would Tulane going to join a separate conference than Southern Miss in an effort to save travel expenses? Tulane's going to swap Memphis and UAB (each six hours away, most teams bus there) for North Texas, which is eight hours away? To save gas money?
Let's take Tulane:
UTEP (gotta fly), Tulsa (gotta fly), North Texas (gotta fly), SMU (gotta fly), Little Rock (gotta fly, 7.5 hours), Houston (5 hrs), Rice (5 hrs), La Tech (bus 5 hrs)
In football, they currently fly everywhere except Southern Miss. That's one trip every two years they bus.
In this nine-team setup, if they're going to fly everywhere but La Tech. One trip every two years. No gain.
In men's basketball, they bus three times (vs USM, HOU, Rice, MEMP and UAB), and fly to everywhere else (five games)
In this nine-time setup, they're going to fly five times and bus three.
In women's basketball and volleyball, you have to drop travel partners and schedule with nine teams instead of 12. It will be random, but it boils down to five opponents you fly to and three you can drive. Tulane would be adding ONE bus trip every other year to what they did before (and that is now 5 hours to La Tech every year instead of 90 minutes to Southern Miss ever other year).
They save pennies on travel a year, but lose Southern Miss. For Southern Miss, the exact same thing is true, because it's easier for them to get to Houston, Rice and Tulane than to WKU, Charlotte and MTSU. The Charlotte/Houston difference is a wash (drive to NO, fly to CHAR/HOU). Except in soccer, volleyball, women's basketball... they play TWO teams in Houston, not fly to Charlotte and bus to Greenville.
IMO, this is overstated and the motivations are misjudged.
Tulane has been trying to build an affiliation with texas privates for years. In the last days of the SWC, Tulane was the school the privates were pushing for membership. Tulane was a loud advocate for the admission of Tulsa, SMU, and Rice to CUSA. While I think the AD and other employees in the Athletic department may look at things like you do, that the school draws better vs. their traditional rivals, I do not think the higher ups are going to allow the Texas schools to leave without them. They want to be affiliated with top academic schools and the east simply doesn't offer that.
Lets take it a step further. Lets say that ECU and Marshall really piss off the Texans (I'll get into this in a second) and Tulsa and the Texas 4 decide to go and Tulane tries to stop a dissolution. Do you really think with the markets CUSA west has on hand that they could not get either Memphis, S. Miss or UAB to join them to give them 6? Lets throw S. Miss out there for a second. They are a #3 FOOTBALL ORIENTED public school from a poor state. DMAs, frankly weak competition, and Texas recruiting make it a tough pass. They may see a path for them to emerge as one of the powers of the conference ala Arkansas in the SWC.
Tulane is going to worry that someone might take their slot and as such is not going to jack around if Tulsa and the Texas 4 want out.
#2 - Men's Basketball.
Memphis, Tulsa, UAB, Houston and UTEP were top 100 RPI teams fighting for post-season. Divide into two conferences, and instead of being in a conference with five top 100 RPI teams, the West would have four (Tulsa, Houston, UTEP and UALR) and the East three (Memphis, UAB, WKU).
I don't see the relevance of this arguement. CUSA is considered a damaged brand in Basketball. They only had 1 NCAA tourney team this year in spite of having a number of candidates. If they were 2 conferences they'd have had at least 2 and probably 3 teams in this year.
The west would not be designed with basketball in mind because the athletic departments in the west (ex. Tulsa and UTEP) just don't think that way. Still they'd have 4 teams that would likely be 18 wins plus each year out of their 8 teams (Tulsa, UTEP, UNT, and Houston).
The East would likely have to cobble stuff together, but could be better. Memphis will likely drop off to a bubble type team. UAB is that. UALR is that. Charlotte and St. Louis could/should be that again with a return to a regionally friendly conference---rivalries and nearer travel should help recruiting.
#3 - Television.
The current C-USA TV deal isn't massive, but it gives the conference some revenue. Mainly because the areas these teams cover is an area of 19.8 million people.
14.8 million of those are in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, El Paso, Tulsa (West teams)
5 million of those are in Orlando, Memphis, Birmingham... Hattiesburg, Huntington, Greenville.
The West is going to negotiate a TV contract with Little Rock, Denton (which is already included in the Dallas market) and Ruston (population: 20,000) instead of Orlando, Memphis and Birmingham? And with no more games vs the Memphis Tigers and UAB Blazers?
The East is going to negotiate a TV deal with Memphis, but without the two biggest markets from C-USA, with Charlotte, Bowling Green and Murfeesboro instead of Dallas, Houston and New Orleans?
The West teams would go from a conference market share of 19.8 million to 15.5 million.
The East teams would go from 19.8 million to 8.4 million, and that's if you count Nashville for Murfreesboro (MTSU).
Each side would be losing TWO cities from their market share which have NBA teams (The East would lose three, gain one).
Each side would have a much smaller TV deal.
I see 4 things that are very glazed over/ incorrect in this arguement. You have the wrong markets, there is no acknowledgement of market penetration (as a derivitive of fan support), the idea that it is a positive to be in an NBA city, and finally you are making a bit of an apples to oranges compairison by not dividing your totals by the number of mouths to feed.
Taking the last point first, your compairison would be:
19.9 M/12 teams = 1.658M per school
proposed (still listed with your submission of the wrong markets)
West 15.5 million/ 8 teams = 1.9375 M per school
East 8.4 million/8 teams = 1.05M per school
Now obviously the POTENTIAL is there for the west to have a better TV deal based EXCLUSIVELY off the DMA numbers, but there is a lot more to it than that. Lets look at DFW. DFW is a long urban sprawl of communities with a west and an east hub (Ft. Worth and Dallas respectively). To make matters worse, the Dallas Cowboys are right in the middle in Arlington, effectively splitting the metroplex and making SMU, TCU, and UNT all a bit of an afterthough. TCU has done a great job of grabbing as much attention as they could while the cowboys were in a smaller stadium in Irving, 10 miles closer to Dallas. But now the cowboys are in a larger stadium and are actively soliciting all of DFW for season tickets. SMU only draws fans from Dallas, and north Dallas at that. With the Cowboys needing to fill 20 thousand more seats, I wonder how much of a gain they will have in the area they attract fans from, even with the cowboys moving 10 miles further from them. Sure they could and probably will see a gain, but it probably won't be much of one. SMU is a private university and a midsized one at that with an enrollment of about 10K. They don't have a huge alumni base. This adds up to SMU only having a sliver of DFW's attention. On the positive note it is a rich sliver which is what you want for advertising purposes. UNT has an enrollment of 34,000 which gives it an enormous alumni base. The vast majority of those alumni settle in DFW. In spite of the fact it is a "music school" and not a "football school" that is still a huge amount of potential viewers in the desired market.
The added benefit of UNT which was mostly blown off is the same benefit that Houston and Rice deliver in CUSA. Houston gives the numbers, Rice gives the rich viewers.
La Tech --- I'll grant there isn't a strong TV arguement for them IMO either, but the schools involved clearly like La Tech and if you give them Ruston, Shreveport, and possibly even assume Little Rock (I would not) as the schools in the west who advocate for them likely do, it is more understandable. I list them mostly because they clearly had support from the west as a candidate for CUSA expansion. Tulane appears to like them best out of the other LA schools not named LSU and I think the Texas schools would let them in to help Tulane/appease Tulane.
The Texas schools do very poorly drawing people to basketball games (in large part due to NBA killzones in Dallas and Houston). Tulane also deals with competition from the NBA and UNO and the fact that their city is smaller than it used to be, so the support side of this argument is lacking. What that means is that they won't be able to pull the numbers in their markets that schools with strong support can, so their TV dollars will likely not be as strong as the DMAs suggest. That is why (in lieu of TCU who the CUSA West likely won't be able to land) a school with a large alumni base in Dallas like UNT makes a world of sense.
In the east, you have stronger fan support in football especially, but also in basketball where memphis is at least in the top 15 in attendance nationally. (Now keep in mind Memphis is now an NBA City and with Calipari gone, an unproven western assistant coach running the show, and the Grizzlies young and improving, the odds are the Griz will start strongly winning the competion for memphis fan ticket revenue.)
Lets start with football. I have tried to think about this question. "Is it possible to build a CUSA East that works financially without 'reaching down' for Sunbet schools?" It seems likely that to protect their BCS-like claims they won't want to reach down that much.
CUSA East's claim to fame is high football attendance. If they want to retain what BCS arguements they have, they have to retain that. CUSA East will almost certainly reacquire Charlotte for basketball and as they need a football home and there is history there. That is a decent market with over 1 Million people. Adding a startup doesn't help them in the football attendance arguement though---in fact it suggests they would need to look specifically for member with good attendance to balance that. If you look around the east there are not many of those. The glaring options are Army and Navy. CUSA used to have Army as a football only member, so there is recent history there. I think it is highly likely they would offer Army and Navy football only memberships and that both would accept. CUSA football is good enough to be respected, but recruiting depth is weak enough that Army and Navy could compete. Army is in the NYC DMA and Navy is in the Baltimore DMA. Eastern BCS school regularly play Army and Navy so there is no sub-BCS stigma. That gives the conference enough of a bump to offer Temple a Football only (or all sports) slot. Temple would certainly take CUSA over the MAC for football and as a former member of the BE, there is a perception (right or wrong) that they are playing at too low of a level of competition in the MAC. Temple gives them the Philadelphia DMA. (Temple/Army and Temple/Navy on alternating years should be great draws for Temple that will help their attendance numbers.) Right there you have 12.4M more native viewers for your broadcasts, plus Army and Navy have national followings making national broadcasts of regular season conference games more likely.
17.4M viewers/10 teams = 1.74M per school for football
In basketball, The east 6 would have Charlotte and Little Rock. That might give them a pretty compelling arguement to put in front of St. Louis. Could they give St. Louis a larger share to join? I don't know. I suspect that they could afford to do so as football revenue is better than basketball revenue. To me it seems a matter of figuring out what works for both parties and makes sense economically. (What is the financial value to the conference of re-adding the St. Louis Market and an established strong BB program near Memphis and Little Rock? I think it would be pretty high.) I do suspect that the A10 is not going to get into a bidding war to keep a regional outlier that offers marginal value. I do know St. Louis Basketball like Charlotte Basketball has not done too well leaving a conference of well known rivals. I do know that athletes do not like playing for outlier schools, so recruiting almost always drops off when a school becomes an outlier. (Athletes like friends and families to be able to see their games.)
That is a salty BB conference with St. Louis, Memphis, UAB, UALR, and Charlotte, likely at least MWC level, and likely a little better. If Temple decides they want in for BB as well, it could be even better.
without Temple (a tough sell for them to leave the A10 and their established BB rivals).
7.9M /9 = .88M
10.8M /10 teams = 10.8M
While the BB numbers are not as promising, remember that unlike the CUSA west teams, most of the potential CUSA east teams draw very well and have strong support that often is not limited to a DMA--- some have regional support and Memphis (at least presently) has national support. This means while the west has underperformed it's DMA numbers and even in the scenario above will continue to do so (albeit not as badly), the east will likely overperform.
Now to some that might sound like I am throwing out the DMA as an evaluation tool. Let me nip that in the bud right now. The DMA is probably the best evaluation tool we have in quickly assessing the TV desirability of a candidate school for admission to a conference, but it is in no way the ONLY factor that should be weighed, and the evaluating of a single school for admission is a different process that designing a conference from scratch. That is all I am saying. Competition (both collegiate and pro), income level of alumni, size of enrollment and alumnibase, commitment to athletics (ie. athletic budget) and other factors have to be considered too.
#4 - Not enough teams willing to make it work.
For the reasons above, Tulane, Southern Miss, and Memphis are automatically against this. And that means neither side can pull it off. The East doesn't have six who want to go, and the West doesn't have six who wants to go.
The only way for C-USA to split would be if those eight core members decided to cut out UTEP, Marshall, UCF and ECU and go their own way. But since UCF, Marshall and UTEP were all voted in by Tulane, UAB, Memphis, Houston, Southern Miss and ECU; that seems doubtful.
Again I think this is overstated. Memphis doesn't even want to be in CUSA. I have a hard time seeing them fighting off Ennui long enough to try forcing the schools to stay together and as stated above I think it is entierely likely that S. Miss would take west spot 6 if it was offered and Tulane knows it so they would take it first.
CUSA is a conference that I see fragile as it is contrived. The west schools don't have anything in common with the east schools. They are together to create the impression of being BCS-like. BCS conferences have highly respected academic members and strongly supported athletic programs. The east schools draw well for football; the west schools don't. The west schools have the endowments, high academic rankings, and national reputations as quality schools; the east teams, with no slight meant, are best known for their athletes. The current east schools have a modestly better basketball tradition.
I think what will kill this conference is that schools like ECU, Marshall, and UCF are going to look at the poor attendance out west and think that it isn't worth cutting their cheif selling point to the bowls (high football attendance) to take these costly trips to Texas. They will bitch about it publically and put pressure on the Texas schools privately. The Texas schools endured this in the SWC and will bristle. Then Texan pride will come out and they will grab Tulane and walk. IMO. But we are all speculating.
To answer the initial question
1) wac - possible but not likely as they don't want to "reach down" for an FCS school or startup
2) Sunbelt - possible but would need massive defections and probably at least 1 other eastern conference to emerge.
3) Start their own - this just seems to me to be what the probable landscape in 2016 or so dictates.