This week the Virginian Pilot said something that we've all been thinking, CUSA isn't a good fit for Old Dominion. You could say the same for Charlotte or FIU or FAU. Pilot writer Harry Minium postulated that the better fit for ODU would be a "geographically compact" football league with the likes of Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, James Madison, Liberty, UMass, and Delaware. We don't know Harry, but we like his intuition.
CUSA is crumbling, sooner than later. The conference, built on a vast expanse of disparate media markets, spanning 2/3 of the country, is untenable. The league's membership has little in common and generates less revenue. That's saying something.
For North Texas, Rice, UTEP, and UTSA it's time to start looking at "geographically compact" alternatives to cut down on travel, increase regional rivalries, and, hopefully, repackage themselves into something marketable. If we use Minium's model, taking Sun Belt schools and other assets into consideration, some mix of the Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas schools makes sense. It might look something like this...
Nine schools, eight conference games, four out of conference scheduling opportunities and a small footprint (other than UTEP). This configuration sets up a true "Little SEC" with the likes of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Troy, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, MTSU, and Western Kentucky. Why not? The Power Five aren't going to let you in their club, and playoff expansion doesn't guarantee any G5 a seat at the table.
The geographic footprint matters not just for football but for other, non-revenue sports as well. For football, travel isn't as much of an issue, CUSA schools will travel into the eastern time zone one average once a season, occasionally twice, but for every other sport, travel is an issue. Basketball and volleyball teams will make a trip to each eastern division team. A smaller footprint makes for a bus league in many instances, rather than flights.
If UTEP had its druthers, it would head to the Mountain West, but CUSA hasn't helped elevate the Miner's brand to a level that makes them attractive. UTEP's modern history is for the most part tied to schools like San Diego State, BYU, Wyoming, and Air Force. If UTEP manages to head west, the new league could either try to take in Southern Miss or find out how serious Arkansas Little Rock or UT Arlington are about starting a football program. The key is to limit the geographic area.
CUSA's attendance is dropping as much or more than any league in the FBS, nearly 10,000 in attendance since 2010. Schools like Marshall, FIU, and FAU won't move the needle, but playing in close proximity will allow traveling fans to show up in higher numbers.
The lack of a conference title game shouldn't be a deal breaker. Instead, the league should focus on a year in, year out bowl destination and work to get a Power 5 conference affiliation or a guaranteed meeting of champions between one of the other G5 leagues. If neither the Sun Belt nor CUSA champions were guaranteed a Power 5 opponent, there's no reason why the two champions shouldn't have met to build interest in the game. Instead, FAU played a home game against a bad MAC team, delegitimizing one of the best CUSA teams in years.
CUSA is crumbling, the new model, rather than chasing the myth of media markets should be a fan-centric regional league. Somebody in Virginia seems to get it; it's time everyone else does as well.
For fans of this site, no, we aren't giving up on the beautiful dream of a unified, twelve team, Southwest Conference. To the contrary, we are drawing our members closer to their glorious destiny. The commissioner of the new league should extend an invite to the likes of Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, and Texas Tech. At least they can't say they were never invited to the party.