thats 5 schools with football.
7 schools gets the Missouri Valley a FBS football conference and lots more exposure on ESPN, FSN, etc.
That only works if you pretend the NCAA Division I Manual does not exist.
If you want to be FBS, you must have a bona fide invitation from an FBS conference (ie. a conference with 8 full members who are FBS, or one that had 8 such members and is below that number but still within the two year grace period).
You don't pull out your wand and wave it and become FBS.
If the Valley were to reach the conclusion it wishes to be an FBS league there is only one way to do so.
You have to invite 8 schools to join the conference who are classified FBS today or will be classified FBS by the time they enter.
If FBS is the desire, the first school you contact is New Mexico State. First of all, few would argue they lack the caliber of men's and women's basketball and baseball that would compete well in the Valley. Secondly they are a former member who primarily left over football. Finally they have a relationship with the Sun Belt (good relations particularly with Arkansas State, Louisana, ULM, and Texas State). If you want to know what is happening in the Kremlin it's good have someone who works there telling you. NMSU can tell you effectively what the mood is in within the Sun Belt, which schools have committed leadership and which ones just have a program because it is expected of them.
To make it work, you have to secure multiple Sun Belt schools, the math (as I'll discuss later) isn't going to worth otherwise.
You can reach out to C-USA members but they are collecting units from Memphis and have a million dollar per program television contract with two relatively compact divisions except for the western division trips to El Paso and Birmingham. Raiding any C-USA is unlikely unless there is a catastrophic blow (ie. Big 10 adds two, losing leagues take two from the American, the American adds three out of C-USA to get to 12) or the new TV deal comes in substantially lower. Western Kentucky is certainly hoops oriented enough to be tempted to but they have rival MTSU a short bus ride away and are renewing old rivalries with UAB, Old Dominion, and Charlotte. The Texas schools enjoy two things in life, playing college football and playing college football against other Texas schools. Those clusters make CUSA a hard target.
A MAC raid might seem plausible. But the generally best basketball programs (Kent, Ohio, Miami, Akron, arguably Buffalo) would seem unlikely raid targets, they've got a nice compact set-up and they are quite fond of having the short trip to Cleveland for the tournament each year. Northern Illinois is the only real outlier and having just busted the BCS and having a past history of unsuccessfully leaving the MAC for greener pastures, they seem a tough target as well. Finding a stray to cut out of the herd seems unlikely
That could well mean there is no path to eight except through the Sun Belt. My sense is that Arkansas State and Louisiana are suitably disgruntled to be targets. Texas State sitting between them and NMSU would go where they go.
ULM? I'm not sure ASU and UL are as enthusiastic if ULM is part of the puzzle. They had a great football year but finished last or next to last in 8 of 15 conference sports. They laid an egg in their bowl because they couldn't afford to keep the players on campus to practice over the Christmas break.
South Alabama a historically good basketball and great baseball program would have to be a target. They are in the home town of a key bowl game to pursue. Fairly nice sized city and few realize it but the closest SEC school to Mobile is LSU. They've got a nice niche down there.
After that pickin's get difficult. Troy has historically been good in football but has struggled to really get great crowds. Georgia State is a direct flight from any place Delta flies but they can easily get lost with Georgia Tech across town, Georgia an hour away and the Falcons, Braves and Hawks in town. Georgia Southern and App are without question two of the greatest FCS program of all time, who knows what they do in FBS and neither is easy to reach.
The downside is obvious, most would be below the standard of the Missouri Valley in basketball, but Arkansas State, Louisiana, and South Alabama have made it pretty clear they will invest to compete in whatever league they are in and ought to catch up. All three have been able to draw when they've fielded really good basketball (which hasn't been that often lately). The others are a longer shot.
The upside. Those schools will bring a $1 million each in CFP money (that they won't share with the hoop schools) that means they can afford to waive sharing conference revenue for a number years to pay a substantial entry fee. The Valley gains a permanent seat on the NCAA Board of Directors. The Valley is now in the exclusive club of 10 who are FBS.
Another benefit is gaining a degree of protection from any plans to divide Division I. Just four years ago a draft plan circulated to create NCAA Major Division and the idea was to be in Major you either had to be FBS or be a member of a conference with at least 8 FBS schools. Based on what seems to be swirling right now, I think we are approaching a showdown. The FBS schools are going to deliver an ultimatium:
1. With the reduction of the power of FBS on the Board thanks to the WAC giving up football they are going to want the Board restructured to increase FBS power and to make it harder to over-ride their votes (the stipend had 125 over-ride requests, only 10 from FBS).
2. An increase the minimum membership requirements to force some of the smaller and weaker leagues to spend more by having to offer more sports and more scholarships to try to price some of them out Division I.
If they don't get it, the FBS probably walks.