Maybe JMU and Delaware can form another FBS conference by adding schools like Army, Navy, Buffalo, UMass, UConn, Marshall, Temple, Villanova, .....? An eastern version of the MAC.
That conference would be a lot saner for travel costs than joining the current MAC.
re: Villanova and Delaware going FBS. Delaware's stadium is currently too small but could be expanded without too much difficulty. Villanova has on-campus stadium problems like Miami does. They don't have room and even if they did the town won't let them expand on-campus to the 30,000 seats needed to qualify for FBS status.
Article from the Richmond Times Dispatch about JMU's FBS future.
Looks like they prefer CUSA over other options (Sun Belt and MAC) because of ODU's CUSA membership. IMHO, it's just a matter of time before they jump up to a FBS conference. The state of Virginia could have 5 FBS schools within the next decade if JMU and Liberty move up. I don't know if it will the panacea that ODU, JMU, and Liberty are banking on since most of the money and power will be in the "Power 5" conferences. Those 3 Virginia schools will get better TV deals being in the FBS and money from lower tier bowls, but it will be peanuts when compared to their in-state ACC brethren.
WRT what conference JMU would like to join, I believe there is a couple of things at play here. Earlier this year (around May) when JMU was preparing to conduct the FBS study, I found an article that indicated JMU wanted to join a "northern" conference given majority of its out-of-state students come from the northeast. If you look at JMU's football roster, then you will see there are no out-of-state players south of Virginia.
Since the AAC is not interested, then that would suggest the MAC. However, I believe JMU is looking to join as a full member and it is my understanding that the MAC is not interested expanding beyond 13 full members even if Delaware was included in the expansion. I am not sure if the MAC would change its position if there was a third school included in the discussions (assuming UMass left for the AAC or became an Independent). Given that JMU does not want to be in different conferences for football and basketball, then that leaves either Conference USA or Sun Belt. Neither are really great for JMU's demographics or recruiting, but both allow the school to make more money in football. Conference USA is probably a choice by default situation since it offers a little more visability, stability, and doesn't have a non-football member (i.e. AR-Little Rock in the Sun Belt).
WRT to the Southern Conference, its football status is going to take a serious hit once App State and Georgia Southern leave the conference and join the Sun Belt. Currently, the conference does not have any school ready to assume either departing schools' shoes (Furman or Samford might have the best chance) and I don't see VMI as a likely candidate when it joins from the Big South. Given that East Tenn St is re-starting its football program, I do not believe it will be able to compete right away which eliminiates it as a candidate to become the next flagship university for the conference. FYI Furman and Samford are both small private schools, which will limit their growth potential and may ultimately hurt the recovery growth of the conference.
I think that article is wrong about JMU not having an invite. I think they have had one from the Sunbelt since April. No one is acknowledging it publicly, but there was lots of talk about it when Western Kentucky left to join CUSA. JMU was the obvious replacement. JMU is just stalling to try to get an invite from CUSA or the MAC. The Sunbelt is a mess. But I'm pretty sure JMU would take an offer from the CUSA or the MAC. I think the CUSA is full and happy at 14 teams, though. So, they either become the 14th MAC team or the 12th Sunbelt. IMO, the MAC should add them and Delaware, if possible. Those two are clearly ready to move up, at least to MAC level. They have the stadiums, the budgets, the fans, they expand the conference geographically in a responsible way, and they win a lot at their current level.
Currently, the MAC already has 14 members with UMass being a football-only member. Would the MAC want to go to 15 members for football? WRT the Sun Belt, AR-Little Rock being a non-football member limits what the conference can do in terms of expansion. With the addition of Idaho and New Mexico St, the conference will have 12 football members (10 full and 2 football-only). Why add a 13th football member unless the conference is prepared to expand to 14 football members? If the conference adds 2 more full members, then that will bring the total full members to 13 (including AR-LR). What is the benefit for a conference to have 13 full members? It makes it difficult for scheduling purposes since the conference cannot be divided into 2 divisions so that teams play every division member twice and each member of the other division once. In fact, I do not believe a 6-team divison and a 7-team division can play the same number of division games using that formula. I know it is not possible in football, which is why the MAC was eager to add UMass as a football-only member before being back in the same situation after Temple left for the AAC.