Will Be About Geography.
The next rounds of realignments will see conferences becoming what they used to be—institutions with similar academic missions, athletic budgets, and most importantly geographically compact.
Economic pressures are sure to drive conferences to be less diversified geographically. Athletic departments are under increasing pressure to remain competitive while cutting costs, and the easiest way to achieve that is by scheduling contests closer to home and cutting travel expenses.
Aside from cutting expenses, having geographically tighter conferences creates better rivalries that increase interest from fan bases. Who really cares about TCU vs. Air Force or La Tech vs. Idaho? But TCU vs La Tech has a little natural geographic hostility that could be developed into something beautiful given time (and in sports other than football and basketball).
In fact, look at most of the best rivalries in college football—proximity is crucial. It's important for fans to be able to make a road trip or two in a given year and not have to give up a mortgage payment to do so.
Look at the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and even the geographically close Big East schools. Fans of opposing teams attend games at rival schools because they can drive.
How many La Tech fans make it to any WAC road games? What about TCU fans to MWC road games? It is doubtful that more than a handful of fans make any road games unless they reside in the vicinity of where the game is being played.
TCU's closet conference foe (New Mexico) is over 620 miles away (nine out of the 12 ACC teams are within that distance). How much sense would it make to be able to put teams in charter buses as opposed to paying airfare for every conference game—in every sport?
Maybe I am nostalgic and want to see the Old SWC teams play each other, but a bus ride to Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, or Tulsa seems to make a lot more sense to me.
The only conference that I think will ignore geography is one of the most flagrant violators now—the Big East. The Big East screwed up majorly when they didn't vote to invite Penn State in the earlier days of the Big East and now they must do whatever they have to in order to keep the BCS bid they have.
To compound the problem, Rutgers and Syracuse continue to come up in "Big Ten Expansion" talk, which could further make their position more tenuous and force them to gobble up the remaining eastern C-USA schools they didn't get the first time around.
In the end, I'm a fan of tradition and would like to see: Boston College & Penn State in the Big East, South Carolina in the ACC, Arkansas (not Baylor) in the Big 12 South, and Georgia Tech in the SEC. But I know that financial interests won't allow that to happen.
However, I do see the C-USA and other non-BCS conferences becoming geographically tighter after the next round of musical chairs.
Conference USA (SWC-Lite)