Getting cable and satellite providers’ subscription rights for individual markets.
So if a league signed Utah or BYU, the P12 network could assume that market would pick up the channel.
Then everyone in that market, regardless of whether or not they watched games, would have to pay extra for that coverage.
But back then, you only needed one school from any given market.
This time around, for some of the reasons you mentioned, it’s not really about that.
It’s more about total viewership. Brand, prestige and competitiveness. The race for number three.
The P12, Big 12 and ACC Are looking for total viewers to appease Fox/ ESPN. They don’t have their own.
It’s more about an arms race to become the #3 best football conference. So brand and competitive this are the two most attractive traits.
By being tier 3, they might be able to sign a better TV deal with fox or ESPN, and be presumed to have more seats at the table for a potential playoff.
Of course, that would also set up a compelling conference championship match up.
Playoffs and CCGs are where the real money is.
Just my guess.