The Board of Trustees met this week and reportedly heard an initial presentation regarding the football program's potential move to the Big East conference. No decision has been made at this time, but a vote should occur at the next meeting. Regardless of the financial questions and pondering over feasibility, the first question to ask if a move is to happen is "where will the Wildcats play?"
When the smallest Division 1-FBS stadium is at least 20,000 seats larger than Villanova's on-campus football stadium. The smallest in the Big East conference (and probably in any BCS conference) is Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, seating over 35,000 for football with the potential for further expansion. Villanova Stadium in it's current 12,000-seat configuration is woefully inadequate for FBS football.
If the 'Cats were to make the move, they would have to expand capacity for football, probably by acquiring a new venue. Here are some options:
Lincoln Financial Field (NFL/Temple)
Address: 1 Philadelphia way, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Seats: 67,594 (10,828 Club seats; 3,040 Luxury Suite seats)
Other Tenants: Philadelphia Eagles (Primary); Temple Owls
Pro: The Linc is big enough for most conferences in FBS football. It would instantly be the largest stadium in the Big East conference, and it's big enough to bring in big-draw out-of-conference games like Penn State or Notre Dame. If the Wildcats could fill the Linc, the gameday atmosphere would be great.
Con: Right now, the Temple Owls have an exclusive lease on the stadium that runs until at least 2018. Temple paid $15 million over the course of the lease and Villanova can expect to pay more than that in 2018 if they were to try and move in. Moving in before 2018 would require the consent of both the Eagles and Temple and would create serious potential scheduling problems in South Philly. Even taking over Temple's lease in 2018 could be difficult, and is by no-means a slam dunk.
Failing to fill out the seats at Franklin Field may make the economics of playing there difficult for the 'Cats. Furthermore, even Temple's 15,000-strong (give or take... probably take) crowds look pathetic when surrounded by a sea of about 54,000 empty seats.
Franklin Field (UPenn)
Address: S. 33rd and Spruce Sts., Philadelphia, PA 19104
Other Tenants: University of Pennsylvania Athletics
Pro: Over 52,000 seats would be plenty for the Big East and could still attract some solid out-of conference programs to town. Franklin Field is a historic stadium that just underwent a series of renovations that improve the fan experience (Men: this means no more pee-wall in the bathrooms).
The cost of leasing this stadium would undoubtedly be lower than the cost of setting up at the Linc, and with only one other tenant to share with, scheduling would be much easier for Villanova.
Con: There is absolutely nowhere to tailgate and getting to the games may be difficult for some. You'd be playing on another university's campus and everything about the stadium would remind you of that.
It is unclear how many Villanova fans would make the trip to University City for a game. There are very few luxuries at Franklin Field to accommodate the more demanding Villanova fans. While similar to Villanova Stadium in that regard, it will be no easier to sell fans on cold weather games sitting on a hard aluminum bench.
Franklin Field would likely be no better than a temporary option for Villanova.
PPL Park (MLS)
Address: 1 Stadium Dr, Chester, PA 19013-1940
Other Tenants: Philadelphia Union; Philadelphia Independence
Pro: The brand new stadium on the Delaware river is big enough to accommodate FBS football's minimum attendance of 15,000 per game. The park is not only brand new, but has plentiful parking, room to tailgate, and luxurious amenities inside the gates.
Seating may be expandable with temporary bleachers or a permanent enhancement, and it provides a striking view of the river from many of the seats. The location in Chester is about 20 minutes from campus.
Con: 18,500 seats would easily be the smallest FBS stadium and the smallest in the Big East conference. Any permanent improvements to the facility would likely be up to Villanova to pay for, and some improvements would be needed immediately.
The current locker rooms are too small to accommodate the number of players on the average Division I-FBS football roster. The field would also need to be replaced -- if it remains as natural grass (likely), Villanova would have to re-sod the field at least once during the football season, and perhaps as many as 6 or 7 times (if the football lines cannot be removed by other means).
MLS rules state that the Union cannot have football lines on their field during soccer games. MLS teams that play on field turf, like Seattle, have been able to effectively "erase" the football lines between games, but it's unclear if that process will work on a natural grass surface -- there is almost no chance that Union officials will agree to switch to an artificial surface. Without the proven ability to "erase" the football lines, the Philadelphia Union will likely not agree to have Villanova football games at their stadium (and their supporters club is heavily against the idea).
In order to host big out-of-conference opponents, the Wildcats would have to find a larger facility. There is very little chance of having the Notre Dame's or Penn State's of the world coming to play in front of 18,000 fans.
Citizens Bank Park (MLB)
Address: One Citizens Bank Way, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19148
Seats: 43,647 (including standing room)
Other Tenants: Philadelphia Phillies
Pro: It is a large enough facility for most games, and would be about par for the course in the Big East. Villanova fans are already used to traveling to the sports complex in south Philly for basketball games, it seems reasonable that they will head down that way for football as well.
CBP is a relatively new and modern facility with plenty of luxury seating options. At a smaller size than the Linc there would be less pressure to sell a huge number of tickets for each game.
Con: It's a baseball stadium and the Phillies use it almost every day until their season is over. Villanova would be unable to guarantee any dates until November, after the World Series. It is also unclear whether the dimensions on the field can accommodate a football field (I suspect that it just barely might, but the baseball diamond would have to be sodded over).
Since the 'Cats wouldn't be able to use the stadium until November, they would need another venue for games in September and October.
The fact that the stadium is laid out for baseball spectator may make it an awkward venue for a football game. Football was not a concern when designing and building Citizens Bank Park.
Expanded Villanova Stadium
Address: 800 Lancaster Ave, Villanova, PA 19085
Other Tenants: None
Pro: The on-campus gameday experience is superior to all other options. Having an on-campus stadium would allow Villanova fans to come back to campus for games every other weekend in the fall -- and allowing the 'Cats to keep the "home" in Homecoming.
Con: Cost -- instead of just paying rent, Villanova would have to make a major investment in infrastructure.
Zoning would also be an issue. Radnor Township will always give Villanova some pushback on any building project, and on a stadium project in particular. Bringing 15,000 fans to campus would also require more parking, as well as improvements to the roads. It may be possible, however, to solve these problems by providing parking off-campus and shuttling fans in.
Expanding capacity beyond 15,000 may also require the 'Cats to remove the track. While another track could be built elsewhere on campus, without the seating capacity of Villanova Stadium, the Wildcats would no longer be able to host the Big East championships. Removing or moving the track would also be disrespectful to a running program that has produced Villanova's most successful athletes over the years -- accounting for more national championships than any other sport.
New Off-Campus Stadium
Seats: TBD -- 30,000+
Other Tenants: None (?); Maybe a share with Temple?
Pro: While located off-campus like the baseball stadium, it would at least be a home that belonged to Villanova. When playing there, the 'Cats could be surrounded by Villanova banners and logos.
At around 30-40,000 seats, a new stadium would be an ideal size for the Big East. This would be something comparable to UConn's off-campus Rentschler Field. If an appropriate location is found with room for parking, Villanova could re-introduce tailgating on a large scale.
Furthermore, the stadium could be used by other Villanova programs as needed, or leased out to concert promoters, high school state championships, or other events. UConn hosts outdoor hockey, High School football, UFL pro-football and concerts at Rentschler Field, as well as corporate functions, banquets and other special events.
Con: In addition to the usual Cons of playing off-campus, cost would be tremendous. UConn's stadium, built on donated land, cost over $100 million to build. Construction costs are unlikely to decline and unless a large tract of land is given to Villanova for this purpose, land would need to be acquired as well.
The acquisition of land would also leave some uncertainty as to the ease of getting to a game.
Seats: 15,000 - 20,000
Other Tenants: Men's and Women's basketball
Pro: A dome provides an all-weather environment that can attract fans even in the rain and snow. With a roof on the facility keeping the elements out, a basketball court could be laid down on top of the turf to allow somewhere between 10,000-20,000 to watch a basketball game depending on the configuration.
A dome would generate some interest just for being a dome -- at least at first. Much like Boise State's blue turf brought some fans out in it's first year or two just to see the turf in action, a dome would bring in a few spectators who just want to see the facility that Villanova built.
Increased capacity for football and basketball is the biggest argument for a dome. A mixed-use facility would allay some risk of the project by allowing it to serve as an on-campus basketball facility as well.
Con: A football-first dome would not necessarily be the best venue for basketball spectators. A football field is far larger than a basketball court, and fans would be far from the action in some seating sections -- a design would have to include an easy way to switch to a basketball-centric seating arrangement that maintained high-capacity.
Cost would be impressively-large most-likely. Domes are not cheap. Perhaps that can be offset by the fact that it would serve as a basketball facility as well as one for football.
Future renovations to expand capacity would not be financially feasible. A dome cannot be expanded as easily as an open-air stadium can. This means that Villanova would have to build to a maximum capacity initially and not have the option to grow beyond that capacity if the program ever warranted it.
The Carrier Dome is rather large, but most of the other domed stadiums in college seat 20,000 or less for football, which the Big East conference may not be happy about.