While I agree with those who aren't enamored by a possibility of Akron joining CUSA/Mountain West, there is no doubt that if that was worst-case, the school would make the move. It's all about the money. The money that league would bring in just based on TV rights would offset the cost of travel. I had a conversation with Mike Thomas when he was the AD, and he was very candid about the university wanting to get out of the MAC, even if it was to CUSA. With the investments the university has continued to make in athletics since he left, I doubt athletic department/university's stance has changed.
Getting out of the MAC really didn't have much to do with level of competition, but rather, it's all about the money.
However, personally I don't think CUSA has to be the next step. I think the Big East is more realistic than people want to realize, if, and it's a big if, a new basketball arena is built.
NewZipsFan brought up the University of Florida example. I see where you're going with that, but it's not fair/logical to compare Florida with Akron. Florida is a charter member of the SEC (always has been a major power, and currently is THE major power in college football). It's also the flagship university of the state of Florida. Ohio State and Florida are equal comparisons, not Akron, as much as I love my university.
Akron, though, is comparable to both Central Florida and South Florida. All three are large, urban universities (located in major TV markets) that are still in their infancy when it comes to DI athletics. South Florida really began to invest in its athletic programs in the late 1990s and skyrocketed into the Big East within five years of becoming a DI-A school in 2001.
Central Florida, however, is actually the better comparison to Akron. UCF didn't begin D1-A football until 1996 (Akron in 1987). UCF joined the MAC in 2002 and played for three years before moving on to CUSA. UCF must have dominated in its three years to have been able to make that move up so quickly, right? Not exactly. They went 7-5, 3-9 and 0-11 (and 1-2 against the Zips head-to-head).
What was the difference for UFC? In 2004, with the impending move to CUSA (despite experiencing a 3-9 season the year before) UCF hired George O'leary as head coach. O'Leary was highly successful at Georgia Tech then was marked with the scarlet letter when after taking the Notre Dame job, it was learned that he had exaggerated his resume. UCF took its lumps in O'Leary's first year, the school's final year in the MAC. But with a new stadium in the works (which was finished in 2007), UCF went 8-5 in its inaugural year in CUSA (O'Leary's second year at the school) in 2005, and he has continue to improve the program since then.
Hmmm, does this seem familiar to Akron? New stadium, highly successful coach with "baggage." Seems to me that Akron is using the UCF model. Coincidence, that Akron opens with UCF this year? Maybe, but the UCF model is something the Akron seems to be following. After all, the same company that was responsible for UCF's new campus/basketball facilities, KUD, ( http://www.kudllc.com/projects/index.html
) is the same one that the University of Akron hired to head its 2020 plan.
What pushed UCF over the top in the Big East's eyes was the new basketball facility (the Big East will always highly consider basketball). With a top-notch basketball facility, UCF now has everything the league is targeting for new membership:
1. A large TV market (No. 19 Orlando).
2. Solid facilities in both football and basketball
3. An athletic department striving to improve
4. Fertile recruiting grounds (moreso in football in UCF's case)
What is Akron missing? Only the basketball arena. And the university didn't hire Jim Tressel to lead the fundraising effort for one to get built, just so JT could get a nice 200,000 a year retirement package.
And since some have mentioned soccer. The Big East, even with the defections, is still a league that still has some very good soccer programs. I'm sure that is another feather in the cap for Akron. While soccer is way down on the list of expansion priorities, having a school that can turn the sport into a revenue producer, like Akron, doesn't hurt.
People need to block out the noise (which likely stems from Can't State, CSU and YSU fans in this area) that Akron can never be more than a MAC school because of its lack of football success. First, that's not exactly the case (Memphis and its 5 wins in three years still is heading to the Big East). Second, we really don't know how successful Akron can become in football. The program was for the most part mediocre (not horrible like some like to exaggerate) while playing in an abysmal facility. I'd say even being able to field a mediocre MAC team playing in the worst facility in all of Division I football is more of an indicator of what kind of program Akron can have, than being horrible (for two years) in a brand-new facility. Let's face it, the Rob Ianello hire was the most important in the school's history, and they blew it. But considering the athletic department canned him, with time left on his contract, before it got worse, and went out and got Terry Bowden, shows that they realized the mistake and are doing whatever they can to make sure it's not repeated.
The Ianello hire cost the university two prime development years, but if Tressel can get the ball rolling on an arena and Bowden can mirror O'Leary at UCF, the school will be back on its original track in a couple of years. Luckily, the Big East won't really decide what direction it wants to go until 2015 when Navy comes aboard. That gives Akron a couple of years to show it's serious about continuing to improve all of its programs.