Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An 18-team Mountain West Conference---One big happy family

I previously posted a blog entry where I argued for a 16-member MWC that resembled the old 16-member WAC.  In that article I considered Boise St, San Diego St, Houston, and Southern Methodist as locks for this conference and speculated that BYU, Tulsa, UTSA, and UTEP could be considered to help fill out the league.  But what if they were able to add all of those schools and have 18 members?  Sure the league would be over-sized but the champion of this league would have to be a lock for the new football playoffs.  You could set it up two different ways--two divisions of 9 or three divisions of 6:

East--SMU, Houston, Tulsa, UTSA, UTEP, New Mexico, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming
West--BYU, Utah St, Boise St, Nevada, UNLV, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Hawaii


Pacific--Nevada, UNLV, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Hawaii
Mountain--BYU, Utah St, Boise St, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming
Central--SMU, Houston, Tulsa, UTSA, UTEP, New Mexico

Each of these models would require some creative scheduling but I think they do I good job of keeping rivals together.  The likelihood of something like this getting adopted is probably minuscule because a larger conference diminishes the value that the more profitable schools bring the league but its an intriguing thought.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One of the Northeastern Conferences is going to Die

In they nasty, uncivilized world of college sports realignment there are sometimes casualties. It has happened before and it has happened again. Sometimes a band of misfits steps in and takes over a dying conference when its on death's doorstep like Seattle, Utah Valley, Cal St Bakersfield, Gran Canyon, Texas-PanAm, and Chicago St have done with the WAC.  However, as a result of the spawning of the Catholic 7 Conference--it's just a working name, I'm sure it will eventually be called the Big East--I think another conference will in turn die.  The round of realignment caused by this new league's formation will surely leave one of the conferences in the northeastern United States so depleted that they will have to close up shop.  Let's look at the conferences and what their fates might be:

Catholic 7
Number of Members: 7
States Covered: Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Illinois, Wisconsin
The Scoop:  This league is going to grow and it will be at the expense of the Atlantic 10.  Expect them to take at least 3 A-10 schools with Xavier, Butler, and Dayton being the first to go and St Louis, Duquesne, Richmond and the MVC's Creighton also being in consideration.

Atlantic Ten
Number of Members: 14
States Covered: MA, RI, NY, PA, DC, VA, OH, IN, MO
The Scoop:  The A-10 is going to be striped of its best schools, there is no doubt about that.  The question is how many and will the Midwestern flank be completely gone?  Even if they lose 3 of their 4 Midwestern schools they may want to jettison the fourth (likely St Louis) because there are no more candidates left in the Midwest for A-10 inclusion.  The A-10 is not without options.  The CAA is a likely source for new members with both private school options--Northeastern, Hofstra, and Drexel, as well as public ones--George Mason.  If the A-10 options don't suit their fancy or their aren't enough there are also additional private school options from the MAAC as well as public schools in America East that they could choose from.  I don't see this conference dying but the direction their reloading takes may very well determine which conference does.

Colonial Athletic Association
Number of Members: 10
States Covered: MA, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC
The Scoop:  This conference is still trying to recover from its last round of defections.  These conference's large footprint and hybrid conference model makes it particularly vulnerable to being raided to the point that it cannot be repaired.  It the A-10 guts the geographic middle of the conference it will be difficult for the northern and southern wings to stick together as a conference.  Furthermore, this conference is vulnerable to raids from conferences beneath it in stature as a result of geography and academic emphasis.  William & Mary  and possibly Towson could very well be lured by the scholarly focused Patriot League.  If they were to lose members to both the A-10 and Patriot League the Northern schools could very well find themselves petitioning to join a conference like America East while the Southern schools (UNC-Wilmington and College of Charleston) would be left looking for a southern home.  The northern schools joining up with America East might not be a terrible idea because a number of the schools are former AmEast members.

America East:
Number of Members: 8
States Covered: ME, NH, VT, CT, NY, MD
The Scoop:  This conference is made up of 7 public schools and one private one, Hartford.  The current small size of the league is concerning because the loss of just a few members could kill the league.  The CAA should find many of these schools to be attractive replacements if that conference is in a state where their remaining membership can reach a consensus on who to add.  America East would be wise to make a pre-emptive strike on the CAA and hope they can force the CAA to negotiate terms amicable to America East.

Number of Members: 10
States Covered: MA, NY, PA, MD, DC
The Scoop:  This conference is not at risk of losing members but they could become predatory and try to take advantage of the weakened state of other leagues--particularly the CAA.  They could easily grab William and Mary and Towson (both football schools, as well as Richmond's football program) to solidify their own football conference.  They have been proactive in recent months, taking Boston University and Loyola of Maryland when there was no threat of any Patriot schools departing.  Should they be proactive again it could hasten the death of another league by denying them two potential members.

Number of Members: 11
States Covered: CT, NY, NJ
The Scoop: This private school league recently suffered a defection (Loyola of MD) and in turn added two replacements--Quinnipiac and Monmouth, and nearly added a third in Wagner.  The MAAC has some private schools that could be attractive to the A-10 like Siena.  Should this league suffer losses and as result decide to find its equilibrium at 12 it could spell disaster to the league beneath it--the NEC.  Much like the Patriot, this league is not at risk at folding but could be a key player in causing the death of another.

Number of Members: 10
States Covered: RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD
The Scoop:  The NEC is the Northeast's gateway league--its where DII upgrades find their first home in the big leagues.  This makes the NEC particularly vulnerable when realignment has a cascade effect, which it almost always does.  Sponsorship of a football conference was once the NEC's chief bargaining chip but that might not be enough to keep members in the league as Monmouth has left and Wagner would have too had their been enough yes votes for their inclusion in the MAAC.  This is primarily a private school league but its lone public school Central Connecticut St has longed to be part of America East and if America East feels like there is a threat to their stability then the Blue Devils will be gone.  On the opposite end of the geographic footprint Robert Morris has been hoping to land an invite to the Horizon League which currently has an opening but that league has been tightlipped about their own expansion intentions (or lack thereof).  This is also the go to place for the MAAC when they need new members and Wagner is next on deck to depart.  The NEC will no doubt see changes in this expansion--either by being forced to shut its doors or dig deep into DII for replacements or by being a parachute conference for refugees of another conference that fell apart.

My money is on CAA or AmEast being the conference sacrificed.  I just see too much infighting among the CAA's members and I just don't see the Northern and Southern wings cooperating and the temptation to go elsewhere will just be too great for George Mason, Drexel, Northeastern, Hofstra, William & Mary, and Towson should a more stable offer come there way.  America East could easily swoop in and swallow up most of the leftovers after the A-10 and Patriot have taken what they wanted.

The other way this could go is that the CAA is able to keep itself together but they hit America East so hard the remaining schools are forced to scatter or pull in replacements to the point that the NEC dries up or the CAA offers America East a full merger (or vice versa) and the other party accepts.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What now for Big East Football?

The departure of the Catholic 7 really jeopardizes things for the Big East football conference.  As it stands now, this is what we are looking at for 2014:

East Carolina (fb only)
South Florida
Central Florida
Southern Methodist
Boise St (fb only)
San Diego St (fb only)

*Navy is set to join for football only in 2015.

It's hard to tell if all of these schools will still be there and how this league can go about the rebuilding process.  UConn and Cincinnati are still actively trying to woo a suitor from the Power 5 Conferences and escape the Big East.  The others would be too if they thought they had a real shot at hearing a yes.  Navy may want to back out of this mess.  You also have the real possibility of the pair of Western Football-Only members backing out and returning to full membership in the Mountain West Conference.  There is even the threat that they could take the pair of Texas schools with them.

The first thing the Big East needs to do is give East Carolina full membership.  It's not like their are any Catholic schools who are going to veto the move any more.  Doing so gives the Big East or whatever the league will be called, an air of stability.

The next thing to do is gauge where Boise St and San Diego St stand on the future of the conference and what it will take to keep them part of the league.  This might require going to a 16-member all-sports model and letting those two schools pick out western schools to round out the membership.  Some of the schools that have previously turned down football-only membership like Air Force and Fresno St might change their mind if it was an all-sports offer and there would be an 8-team division of schools west of the Mississippi.  This league might look something like this:

East--UConn, Temple, Cincinnati, East Carolina, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Tulane
West--Houston, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, Air Force, Boise St, San Diego St, Fresno St

I just threw out a few names--they could be swapped for just about any upper tier C-USA West or MWC member or even BYU if they could somehow get them on board.

The repercussions of this could be that the MWC limps away so weakened it has no choice but to add New Mexico St and Idaho or talk merger with the depleted Sunbelt.  For every school C-USA loses they will no doubt go after a Sunbelt school to fill the void with Western Kentucky being the first to get the call up.

For a number of reasons I really do not like this idea.  I am not a fan of a coast-to-coast league and I think that Boise St and San Diego St would be better served by sticking with the MWC and trying to coax SMU and Houston to come join them rather than putting their faith in a UConn and Cincy led conference whose name has forever been tarnished.

If Boise St and San Diego St cannot be kept in the fold then the Big East will have no choice but to rebuild within the footprint of the 2005-2012 version of C-USA.  Adding 2 more members would get the league up to 12 members and the league would at least be in stable condition.  However, with the loss of Boise St and San Diego St the Big East cannot be picky about markets or pick a developing program.  They will need to pick someone who is solid now if they are going to be able to build a strength-of-schedule for their conference champion that will top that of the now strengthened Mountain West Conference.  I think this is where Tulsa would come into play for member #11.  After that it gets hazy.  The other 2005-2012 C-USA schools are not that hot: Marshall, UAB, Southern Miss, Rice, UTEP.  The Big East would either have to hold at 11, add one of those, or take a chance on a start up like UTSA.

This would be the worst case scenario and if the MWC went to 16 and took two more programs in the vicinity of Texas (like Tulsa and Tulane) then things for the remaining Big East schools would be even worse.  This would, at best, leave the Big East with:

East Carolina

The schools who departed C-USA can't simply go back because C-USA already replaced them with new schools like Old Dominion, Charlotte, FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, LA Tech, UTSA, and North Texas.  They would have to get at least 4 of the 6 C-USA schools who still have voting rights (this could become 4 out of 5 should Tulsa or UTEP go to the MWC or 3 of the 4 if both go) to vote to dissolve C-USA and then invite those schools to all join the remaining Big East schools.  Dissolution would save the C-USA schools millions each.  This would then mean that all of the schools who were scheduled to become C-USA schools would have to join forces with the Sunbelt which potentially would be a 16 member football league with two non-fb schools.

The Catholic 7

The consortium of schools known as the Catholic 7 are parting ways with the football element of the Big East, that much we know.  What we don't know is what their new league will look like or what it will be called.  There are plenty of candidates out there for inclusion, most of whom come from the Atlantic 10.  Here they are:

Xavier--this Jesuit school in Cincinnati is most definitely a lock to join the Catholic 7.  They have a large fan base and plenty of basketball pedigree

St Louis--another Midwestern, big city, Catholic school.  The Bilikens have had their ups and downs but right now they are on an upswing so I think they will be going too.

Butler--4 years ago I would have laughed at the notion of Butler joining up with the Catholic 7.  Two National Championship appearances later things are different.  No, they aren't Catholic, but they are a private school in a large Midwestern city in a state that passionate about basketball.  had Notre Dame still been with the Catholic 7 they might have gotten passed over but I think they are definitely in the mix and one Minnesota newspaper has reported that the Bulldogs and Xavier were locks for membership in the Catholic 7

Dayton--an excellent Catholic basketball school in the Midwest with tons of success and pedigree.  The only downside is that they are not in large city and they are in the shadow of Xavier.

Creighton--this Catholic school in Omaha has been mentioned frequently in expansion talks.  I'm not a huge fan of their inclusion but they are definitely part of the discussion.  They are a solid team however and they would deliver a new market, albeit not a huge one.

Duquesne--Duquesne hasn't had the most success of these candidates in recent years but they are in a large market that would help bridge the geographic gap between the Midwestern and East Coast flanks of the conference.  They are a Catholic school too which might help their candidacy but they haven't really been mentioned much in discussion talks

Richmond--this private school isn't Catholic but they are a basketball power and they would provide a southern travel partner for Georgetown.  Their name hasn't come up much in the expansion articles so far but I wouldn't rule them out quite yet.

If the Catholic 7 admitted all of these candidates into their conference they'd have 14 schools and a nice divisional split between the East Coast and Midwest.  I wouldn't be surprised if they only went with 12 members in order to concentrate the wealth.  The following weeks should reveal who gets in and who is left in the Atlantic 10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seeds of Discontent--The Big East's Catholic 7 Mull Leaving--Can Temple be Bribed?

The writing was on the wall.  It was inevitable that someday the uneasy alliance between football and basketball factions in the Big East would deteriorate to the point that a split would be discussed openly and publicly. I won't recount the tale of how the Big East has come to this point but I will say that the basketball schools are much to blame for the current dilapidated state of the Big East because they never allowed the football schools to exercise enough power to keep the football conference stable.  What has happened is that the 7 basketball schools Providence, St John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown, and DePaul are unhappy with the current state of the Big East and either want more power or the right to leave.  They could vote to disband the conference.  With only 10 full members--the others being Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida, currently in the conference that are not scheduled to depart and thus obliged to abstain in voting they would have the necessary two-thirds majority to do so.  There seems however that there is problem though.  Temple claims that they have the right to vote as well despite being only a football affiliate this year and not becoming a full member until next year.  Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco seems to agree with Temple that they do have a vote and if Temple has a vote and votes no then the 7 Catholic schools no longer have the requisite majority.

The Atlantic Ten has already extended their hand to the 7 Catholics.  Offering a 21 member conference with two divisions and a 20-game conference schedule in basketball.  This would give the 7 Catholics a conference home, television dollars from the A-10's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Shares, and the A-10's automatic bid to the tournament.  The downside is that the A-10 has a lot of dead weight programs like Fordham, Rhode Island, and St Bonaventure that either are terrible at basketball, have no television market or following, or both.

Another idea I have been a proponent of is the creation of a new conference by cherry picking the best of the A-10.  The only problem is this new conference would begin on a shaky financial grounds.  All the schools involved would likely old their old conferences exit fees, the new conference would have no stockpile of tourney shares, and no immediate automatic bid to the tournament.  This would be harder to accomplish.

I think their is one way that the Catholic 7 could pull off dissolution of the Big East and thus escape the Big East exit fees and give themselves a better financial footing regardless of whether they chose to go to the A-10 or found a new league.  This would essentially require buying Temple's vote.  The Catholic 7 could offer membership in their new league and payment of whatever fees required to put the Owls back into MAC football.  (It might also require giving Temple back the $1 Million bribe they were required to pay Villanova in order to get in the Big East.)  This might not be a bad idea for Temple.  It would keep them with Northeastern basketball schools (for those who don't know Temple is a northeastern school that is good at basketball), sparing them the lengthy roadtrips in basketball and Olympic Sports that they would have to make if they stayed with the football faction.  With the BCS era and the playoff era beginning the football schools no longer have an advantage over the MAC when it comes to access to the biggest post season stage in college football and as this season has demonstrated, when the MAC has a good year they are capable of breaking the glass ceiling.

Getting out of the Big East without paying exit fees would give the Catholic 7 and Temple a much better financial situation and they would be better able to afford starting their own league and lure away the cream of the A-10 to create a dream urban Catholic League spanning the Northeast and Midwest.

If dissolution by vote and/or an amicable split between the factions cannot be attained then I think, like I have reiterated multiple times on this blog, the Big East should simply start behaving like two conferences under one umbrella.  Add ECU and Tulsa as full members and put them in a division with the football schools while UConn and Temple play with the Catholic 7 in two divisions of 9.  Each division plays double round-robin conference schedule and a handful of crossover games with the other division to fill out the conference schedule.  The Catholic 7's association with the "unworthy" C-USA upgrades would be minimized as would the effect on their RPI by playing weaker schools.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Reviving the Old 16-Team WAC in the Mountain West Conference

Some off us remember the old 16-member WAC.  It was with us just 3 short seasons from 1996 to 1998 and was the first attempt at a mega conference.   Teams were divided into 4 4-team scheduling pods that looked like this:

Pod 1: Hawaii, San Diego St, Fresno St, San Jose St

Pod 2: UNLV, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming

Pod 3: BYU, Utah, New Mexico, UTEP

Pod 4: Tulsa, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, Rice

The 16 member WAC was the product of the collapse of two conferences, the Big West's football conference and the Southwest Conference, and the WAC taking pity on those homeless programs and taking them in. It unfortunately was aborted pre-maturely by a consortium of old guard schools known as "the Gang of Five", who were unhappy that they did not get to play each other as they did prior to expansion, at a secret meeting at the Denver Airport laid plans to create a new conference, the Mountain West. Of course, after that fateful airport meeting 8 members departed and a ninth, TCU, followed in 2001.  Gradually, more WAC schools drifted into the MWC including schools like Boise St, Nevada, and Utah St who were not part of the original 16-team WAC but joined the conference in the years following 1999 to replace the departed schools. The MWC has gone to the WAC to grab replacement schools because Utah departed for the Pac 12, TCU for the Big 12, a disgruntled BYU declared independence, and Boise St and San Diego St became embroiled in a desperate attempt by the Big East to stay relevant by adding football only members in the western United States.

Internet rumor de jour is that the MWC has not only been trying to lure San Diego St and Boise St back into the fold but SMU and Houston as well.  The Big East, which those four schools are slated to join in 2013, received a crushing blow during the Thanksgiving Raids, losing its two best remaining programs, Louisville and Rutgers to the ACC and Big Ten respectively.  The Big East is terribly unstable and its list of cast members in 2014 is hardly an all-star cast; it can't even be called a Conference USA all star cast because it included C-USA cellar dwellers Memphis and Tulane.  Since I brought up Tulane I should probably mention that the Big East's solution to losing Rutgers and Louisville was to invite Tulane as an all sports member and East Carolina as a football only member.  East Carolina also received a halfhearted promise from the Big East that they would consider bumping them up to full member status once this round of realignment finished shaking out and the Big East figured out who their 14th football school was going to be and whether or not school #14 was going to require full membership; if they did, the ECU presumably would as well.

If the MWC was able to bring/keep those 4 programs into the fold it would give the conference 14 members for football.  14 member conferences are all the rage and very en vogue right now but going to 16 has some advantages besides mere nostalgia.  The ability to pick out two schools in proximity to them to come along to the MWC is one of the "carrots" the MWC has extended SMU and Houston.  This would be a win-win for both sides as SMU and Houston would get travel partners but the MWC would get an even stronger presence in the football-loving and very populous state of Texas.  The leading candidates to be SMU and Houston's "prom dates" are UTEP, Tulsa, and UTSA.

UTEP has some history with the current MWC schools. UTEP was an old guard member of the WAC; they were there from 1967-2005 and left the WAC with a block of former SWC members (including SMU) to join an expanded and football-centric C-USA (which included another SWC refugee, Houston).  The Miners have a solid following; they attracted an average of just over 29,000 fans a game this past season.  The downside to the Miners is that they bring the smallest market of the candidates I mentioned (98th largest nationally) and they have not had much success on the gridiron in recent years.  There also might be some bad blood between UTEP and some current MWC schools in that UTEP abandoned some of them when they left the WAC.  It is also likely that there are some hard feelings on the part of the MWC schools because they have repeatedly sought out UTEP for membership (like back when they added San Jose St and Utah St) and UTEP rebuffed their advances.  Another thing to consider is that UTEP left to go be in C-USA to be with East Texas schools because UTEP wanted to be associated with the East Texas schools, not because the East Texas schools had any particular fondness for trips out to El Paso.

Tulsa is a small private school but they have been the most successful of the programs I'm considering for  MWC membership winning C-USA West 4 times and going on to win the C-USA title game twice.  They would bring both a new market (61st nationally) and a new state into the WMC.  They were also part of the 16-team MWC and have spent the past 8 years with Houston and SMU in C-USA.  Their average attendance is quite a bit smaller than UTEP's--they only averaged a home game attendance average of 20,418 this past season.  This is purely speculative but I believe than Houston and SMU also have considerable respect for Tulsa, SMU in particular because both schools are private, religious schools.

UTSA is the third school I'm going to throw into the mix.  The program is a young start up.  They bring no pedigree, history, or ties with any MWC schools but what they do bring is loads of potential and television sets.  They are in the largest market of these three leading candidates as San Antonio is the 37th largest in the US.  It is also a large market free of competition from a local NFL team in a state that loves football.  UTSA's attendance this year was comparable to UTEP's so folks in San Antonio are clearly showing some interest in the new program.  I think the UTSA program has enormous growth potential and that is why I think the MWC would be foolish to overlook the Roadrunnners.

I imagine that there are a few other candidates out there as well. Brigham Young is the obvious one but I am not entirely convinced that BYU can be lured back into the fold without giving them some considerable concessions regarding revenue sharing and tier 3 media rights.  It's also up in the air whether or not BYU would want to be in a "Forgotten 5" league.  Independence seems to be treating them alright and they get a nice television contract with ESPN but they do lack access to the playoff and playoff money which would be one perk of MWC membership.  Tulane is another school that could be in the mix.  SMU and Houston liked the Green Wave enough to allow them to become part of the Big East and while they have been atrocious on the gridiron lately the program is making strides and demonstrating a commitment to football by building an on campus stadium.  New Orleans is also a pretty big television market, albeit they have to compete with the Saints and Hornets for fans.  New Mexico St could be thrown on the list too but they offer very little to the MWC compared to the other schools I mentioned.  The same with Rice--while they were in the old WAC U of H already would give the MWC a Houston presence.

The new 16 member MWC should definitely go back to the Pod system of the old WAC.  Many of the schools involved were part of the old 16 member WAC and would be in the same pods with the same pod-mates as they were over 2 decades ago (I've bolded members of the 16 member WAC):

Pod 1: Hawaii, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St

Pod 2: Nevada, UNLV, Boise St, Utah St

Pod 3: Wyoming, Colorado St, Air Force, New Mexico

Pod 4: Southern Methodist, Houston, 2 of Tulsa/UTEP/UTSA

As far as basketball goes I think the MWC will be alright with 15 members and giving Hawaii full membership won't be necessary.  For basketball and other sports the MWC could go to a 3-pod system for scheduling where each school would play each of their 4 pod-mates twice and the other 10 members once for a total of 18 games:

Pod A: San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Nevada, UNLV

Pod B: Boise St, Utah St, Wyoming, Colorado St, Air Force

Pod C: New Mexico, Southern Methodist, Houston, 2 of: Tulsa/UTEP/UTSA

I am going to give my endorsement for MWC membership to Tulsa and UTSA.  Tulsa brings a strong program and UTSA brings a television market and loads of potential.  Tulsa and San Antonio are both far larger than El Paso and if its one thing we have all learned from conference realignment these past few years it is all about television markets.  This is very unfortunate for UTEP, as they would be left out of the loop and stuck in a watered down C-USA that no longer had the same strong East Texas presence but UTEP has had multiple chances to get into the MWC and now they could very well find themselves without a spot.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Big East's next realignment move--Tulsa or UTSA

The Big East recently lost Rutgers and Louisville in the Thanksgiving realignment and picked up Tulane for all sports and East Carolina for all sports, however it's believed that East Carolina will likely get promoted to full member status once this round of realignment sorts itself out.

As it stands now the Big East of 2014 will have 16 full members ( 9 of whom play FBS football) and 3 football affiliates.  However if Navy does indeed join as a football affiliate in 2015 then the league will be unbalanced at 13 football schools and will need an additional school to reach equilibrium.

BYU, Air Force, and even Fresno St are not interested.  They aren't coming, plain and simple.  It is time for Mike Aresco to consider other western options that will hopefully keep football affiliates Boise St and San Diego from darting.

The schools Aresco should be considering are UTSA and Tulsa.  Both would fit nicely in a western division alongside San Diego St, Boise St, Houston, Southern Methodist, Tulane, and Memphis.  Tulsa is a private school that has a history of success and some history with SMU and Houston from their WAC and C-USA days.  Memphis, UCF, and Tulane were also members of C-USA during Tulsa's tenure there.  The media market they would bring is a modest one, the 61st largest but the school has a loyal following.  The Golden Hurricane also bring with them a respectable basketball pedigree having a history of success in the NIT in years that Memphis carried the C-USA banner at the big dance.

Another option out there is a start up program with a ton of upside--the UTSA Roadrunners.  Yes, their football team is brand new and they have zero pedigree to speak of but they are in the 37th largest television market in America, a market that, aside from the Spurs, is devoid of professional sports competing for attention with UTSA.  It's a program that could grow from nothing in much the same way that USF and UCF did.

The addition of either of this programs, alongside the promotion of ECU to full member status, would bring the Big East up to 18 members.  At this point for basketball the Big East should consider divisional play, rather than full round-robin and playing a rival twice.  Basketball divisions could be:

North---Providence, UConn, St John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Temple, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette
South--Cincinnati, ECU, USF, UCF, Memphis, Tulane, Houston, SMU, Tulsa

This would keep the C-USA legacies together and preserve the Northeastern and Catholic bonds among the remaining Big East founders.  This would also probably result in more games with television appeal as their would be more clashes against regional rivals who have history together.