Villanova has a one-off contract with the Philadelphia Union to play host to the 'Cats annual rivalry game against Delaware at their new stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. The 18,500 seat stadium is going to expand to 20,000 seats and then again to 30,000 seats in phases over the next ten years as well.
Villanova hasn't committed to a move to the Bowl Subdivision — any chance of that happening has been delayed by at least a year. Even so, PPL Park may still become a more permanent home.
"Even if they don’t go (I-A) and get bigger opponents, we’re their partner. We want to form a partnership with Villanova University to make PPL Park their home," Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz told the Delco Times. "… We’ll play more games. We’ll play as many games as Villanova desires. It doesn’t matter to us. We have confidence in our groundskeepers."
The door appears wide open for Villanova and the Union to expand their relationship. The 2011 game will be in November, but future games could be scheduled there throughout the fall. There is little concern about the damage that American football could do to their field. According to Sakiewicz:
We have a plan in place so that, if the game is played in September or November, it doesn’t matter to us. We’ll play more games. We’ll do this game with an eye toward next year and see where this takes us. We’re absolutely open for business with them. We think the world of them. We think the field held up marvelously after rugby and we think it’ll be the same for American football.
Villanova officials are silent regarding any plans at PPL Park beyond the current one-game arrangement and are even quieter about any campaign to gain entry to the Big East conference.
Administrators are still working, however, to position the Villanova program to be as attractive as possible for the expanding conference. That means showing officials that PPL Park can be a viable college football venue.
According to a source speaking to Patch.com's Joseph Santoliquito:
This is a nice trial run to see what happens and how everything is run. I’m sure both schools are going to build it up, and it’s a great fit, right there for Delaware fans and right there for Villanova fans. Above everything else, the Big East will be watching to see how it all goes.
If all goes well, if the game has a good draw, presents a good fan experience, and the stadium looks and plays like any other in the sport, the Big East will likely look more favorably upon the Wildcats.
The stakes for Villanova are high, but for the Philadelphia Union, they may be higher. The MLS team has been seeking avenues to increase their revenue generating potential of PPL Park — which was always intended to host non-soccer events.
College football could bring a potentially high-revenue event to the Chester stadium for six or seven games every fall. Sakiewicz's comments seem to indicate that landing those additional games is absolutely an item on the Philadelphia Union's agenda, which means that the success of Villanova's planned tilt with Delaware this Fall is of the utmost importance for the club.
Does this one-game lease foreshadow something bigger in the future? It seems that it could. Villanova needs to prove that fans will make the trek to Chester and perhaps that fan interest can be higher than recent attendance figures have indicated.
If this experiment proves its hypothesis, it may not be the last game Villanova football plays at PPL Park.