CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd has been on the MWCUSA beat lately, noting that the two conferences would have administrators meeting on Sunday 1/15 and the possibility exists that a merged conference could jump ahead of the Big East when it comes to negotiating with television partners.
My expectation is that any form of merged conference would not take place until 2013, but if they were to agree to dissolve both conferences, they would be able to take themselves to the open market immediately. It is my understanding that for the combination of schools to be able to take themselves on the open market, they cannot simply merge under one conference's banner or the other as they would likely have to stay with existing TV partners. I do not know if FOX, CBS Sports Network or Comcast/NBC have any provisions with their contracts if they have the ability to exclusively negotiate with any of these parties if either conference dissolves.
So what value is out there for a merged MWCUSA? They can boast, like the Big East did after inviting five new football members, that they have the ability for television to air games in virtually any timeslot. The television value of these members themselves is debatable and the same goes for the Big East. Does that value include weeknight games? Neither C-USA nor MWC wanted to play on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or most Fridays when they left ESPN. Does that change to get ESPN involved in the bidding? It may be the only way they get involved.
These two conferences make up the bulk of CBS Sports Network's college football and basketball coverage, so I would be surprised if they weren't actively involved in any potential bidding. I'm sure that NBC Sports Network and FOX Sports want to maintain their existing relationships, but the question will be whether the conference and either of these potential TV partners demand some form on "primary cable" exclusivity (ie. NBCSN or FOX is the primary partner, CBSSN the secondary partner). NBCSN might be more aggressive since they have no other major college football, save for the Ivy League, while FOX has the Big 12 to occupy slots on FSN.
Last question becomes what to do with regional TV coverage. Comcast has it with the MWC via the mtn. and does have an agreement with CBSSN to carry some C-USA games on CSS. FOX has the regional infrastructure, but with a common footprint with the Big 12, what ability do they have to pick up those games?
I don't know that using the Big 8-SWC merger into the Big 12 will be able to set any precedents. Both conferences were part of the CFA group contract and went out on their own, where these two schools were already negotiating independently.
Will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Stay tuned.