Dear Alumni and Friends:
I hope this note finds you well and enjoying a wonderful Christmas season.
I am committed to keeping you apprised of our decision-making process as we consider the Big East choice we now face. To recap, we currently compete in the Big East Conference in all varsity sports with the exception of football where we are a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly "I-AA"). If we were to decide to join the Big East as a football member, it would require our transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly "I-A"). Since this is such a complex decision, we began a formal evaluation process in September 2010. In this correspondence--the third to-date of my alumni messages on the Big East decision--I want to update you on our progress. At the end of this message, I will also answer a number of questions I have received in recent weeks.
Objective Research and Analyses
Our decision-making process is centered upon one question: Which choice best supports the goals of the Villanova University Strategic Plan? Accordingly, we are conducting thorough research and analyses of the implications of either choice for the following areas: academic quality and a diverse intellectual climate; school spirit and extracurricular activities; finance and budget (projected revenue, expenses, and changes in institutional support); fundraising and donor support; practice and playing facilities; and the impact of media exposure on Villanova’s reputational goals.
In addition, we have externally commissioned several specific studies:
- A strategic and financial assessment of implications for Villanova (FBS Feasibility Study)
- An architectural assessment of the scope of improvements needed for practice/training facilities
- Market research to determine consumer demand/ticket sales at the FBS level
- An assessment of the value of increased national media exposure
- An assessment of the effects on our fundraising program
The decision-making process is being led by the Villanova Board of Trustees and senior administrators. However, open communication with--and input from--Villanova community members is crucial. Accordingly, we have held Big-East discussions with the following groups to date:
- President's Cabinet (9/20)
- Athletic Subcommittee (9/21)
- Athletic Board Committee (10/11)
- Administrative Budget Committee (10/18)
- President's Leadership Circle (10/20)
- Senate Athletic Advisory Committee (10/20)
- Faculty (11/9 and 11/10)
- Student Leadership Group (11/12)
- Alumni Association Board (12/9)
- Board of Trustees (12/14)
Meetings with the University Senate and with staff are slated for January. In addition, my staff and I have been sending regular updates to constituent groups including students, faculty, staff, and you--our alumni--to ensure that our entire community is kept up to date. Senior administrators and I have also spent many hours in conversation with stakeholders. We have listened carefully, and greatly appreciate the input of all members of the Villanova community.
- January 2011: Continued community meetings, stakeholder dialogue, and research and analyses
- February 2011: Board of Trustees meeting; discussion of research findings to-date
- March 2011: Assessment of remaining research findings
- April 2011: Board of Trustees meeting; discussion of outstanding items; Board decision
Whatever choice we make, it is crucial that we have performed our due diligence and that our community is able to move forward with confidence. I can assure you that we will leave no stone unturned in this evaluation. In the meantime, I thank you for your dedication to Villanova University, and wish you and your family a joyous and blessed Christmas.
Fr. Peter Donohue, O.S.A.
Q: Why is there so much discussion about football leagues and conferences right now?
A: Significant changes are occurring in college athletic programs nationwide, and football has become a major driver of these programs. In particular, Bowl Championship Series football conferences have the greatest amount of influence over the governance and direction of college athletics and control nearly all national TV rights fees. Even with the recent announcement of the addition of Texas Christian University to the Big East, many experts predict additional conference realignments in the future.
Q: Why is Villanova's decision timeframe so long?
A. We are conducting thorough research on the implications of this decision for many core areas of the University, and we have commissioned several studies externally. The scope and depth of such internal and external research, along with the analyses of our findings, takes a significant amount of time. We are committed to making the best decision possible, and have therefore determined that we will not rush to a conclusion of the process. The Big East is aware of the process we are undertaking, along with our time frame.
Q: As an educational institution, shouldn't the University focus its resources on academics?
A: We will not proceed with any course of action that compromises Villanova's academics or the quality of the Villanova student experience. The due diligence described above is focused on understanding the potential relationships between all facets of the Big East decision and the priorities set forth in our university-wide Strategic Plan. Villanova has historically achieved a healthy balance between academics and athletics, and whatever the decision regarding the Big East opportunity, this will not change.
Q: Would Villanova make money playing Big East football?
A: Even as the 2009 national champion in the Colonial Athletic Association, Villanova--like the majority of universities--makes an institutional investment in its football program. Our current net investment is approximately $4 million per year. If Villanova were to join the Big East, its levels of investment and revenue would both increase substantially. We are conducting extensive financial analyses to assess the potential budgetary implications (revenue, expenses, and changes in institutional support) of various scenarios in the short and long term.
Q: What are the more significant costs/investments involved in a move to FBS?
A: Some of the more significant costs/investments involved in a move to FBS would include:
- Improvements to our on-campus football practice/training facilities. The cost of upgrading practice facilities is preliminarily estimated at $35 million (for physical improvements only).
- Operational costs involved in an FBS move (above our current net expenditures), such as additional salaries, marketing, and ongoing facility maintenance. Because of competing institutional priorities, many of these investments would need to be fully funded through private gift support from donors. We are conducting financial analyses as well as a feasibility study to assess the implications of such private gift support--especially in terms of opportunity costs. That is, we are seeking to understand if donor support for football initiatives could preclude support for other initiatives at the university; and if so, how and to what extent.
Q: What are the top stadium options for home games?
A: Since Villanova's stadium does not meet FBS requirements, an on-campus facility would not be an option. Therefore, the University would need to explore off-campus venues in the Philadelphia market.
Q: Could Villanova meet the FBS required average home game attendance of 15,000?
A: This is a fair question. We have engaged an external firm to conduct a feasibility study that will assess whether a 15,000 attendance level is a realistic objective.