"We would love for Villanova to come into the Big East," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said. "It would be tremendous for college football in Philadelphia."
Many were concerned that this season's Mayor's Cup game would be the last, but relations between the regions' two Big East institutions are not particularly strained. Villanova athletics chief Vince Nicastro and Bradshaw have been talking about football again recently, so although the football "rivalry" game is slated to take at least a three-year hiatus, it seems that the schools are working to bring the game back again.
Is that the right move though?
The ideal scenario for Villanova is for an opportunity to move to the Big East conference and to play the Mayor's Cup game as a Big East conference rivalry -- on even ground.
Villanova has gone silent on the upgrade issue lately, however, though sources have consistently claimed it is still on the table internally. Villanova talks about "positioning" the program, which means upgrading the facilities apparently, starting with locker rooms and the weight rooms after the fall season ends. After that other improvements could come, but that's highly dependent upon donations from alumni and fans -- at least, unless Villanova were asked to accelerate that process by the Big East.
The Big East conference is locked on to adding another western football member as their 14th, to balance things out for the nation-spanning geography and provide Boise State and SDSU with more feasible geography for their football program. BYU and Air Force are much talked about as candidates but both have already said "no" once, after those, the conference may look to San Jose State, UNLV, Colorado State or others.
Villanova's chances to be the 14th member seem very slim. The 'Cats hands are pretty tied on that. If the conference can add two more western members, however, there is a better chance of Villanova finding a home in a 16-team football conference -- but there are a lot of ifs, ands, or buts between now and then.
So Nicastro and Bradshaw will talk about renewing the game as a mismatched FCS vs. FBS game.
It wasn't terribly mismatched when the series began between a MAC version of Temple and a top-ranked Villanova football team out of the CAA. Computer ratings almost never placed the MAC higher than the CAA in recent years and while Temple still had the advantage of 22 more scholarship players, Villanova wasn't terribly overmatched in talent.
In the Big East, Temple will be recruiting a very different caliber of player. They are going to have the big TV money and big postseason opportunities that give them a chance to build a Grand Canyon-sized gap between themselves and Villanova.
Renewing the Mayors Cup is essentially signing up for a series of games that the Wildcats may rarely have a good chance to win.
Of course, the Wildcats have made a tradition of facing FBS teams that they don't have a good chance of beating. Since reviving the program in 1985, Villanova has a 3-14 record against FBS opponents — two of those came against down-on-their-luck Big East programs Temple and Rutgers, but even when the 'Cats have played well against bigger programs the results tend to disappoint.
For a program like Villanova, looking to build fan support among an alumni-base that has a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" attitude, scheduling high profile losses isn't going to light up the Villanova Stadium turnstiles.
The series is great for Temple for now, this year's Mayors Cup drew 32,709 fans, and was the third-largest crowd for Temple football at Lincoln Financial Field. Their fans are hungry to see Villanova lose, so for now they will show up. That might change if it gets boring for them, but for now it's at least a better option for the Owls.
For Villanova, there are few positives.
Villanova will earn significantly more money travelling to Pittsburgh, Syracuse and UConn for the next three openers than they were given in guarantees by Temple for the four-game series.
Furthermore, if the Wildcats lose big a little further afield, it is less-publicized locally. FCS opponents are a tough enough sell to students, alumni and other fans, but to try and sell those tickets after having a 41-10 score plastered all over the local newscasts and papers, is perhaps folly. Philadelphia fans support winners, not the teams with flaws that can be exploited.
Maybe Villanova can rebound from the Temple loss and go on to have a good season. Will anybody notice though? The die hards will show up at Villanova Stadium regardless of the scores, but those aren't the fans that Villanova has to worry about. The 'Cats need to pull in the fans who look down on CAA and FCS football.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and Villanova has blown that chance the last two seasons at the Linc.
Back to the Big East issue: It all comes back together as a chicken-and-egg situation. The Big East offers a television safety-net that allows some flexibility and time to build a program's support up at the FBS level. That said, the conference needs to lock up a new television deal before any of that becomes assured.
Could Villanova pursue MAC membership? The MAC does have a slot open, presumably, but they also don't have much in the way of television revenue to offer their members. If Villanova were to upgrade at that level, the program would have to find 8-figures to fund its budget every year — not terrible if the fans are showing up and donating money, but disastrous if support levels stay the same for a longer time.
Are Kent State and Akron really bigger draws than James Madison and Delaware?
Fans who want to see Villanova more proactive on a move should understand that dynamic. If Villanova were averaging 5-digit fans at its FCS games, or if the rolls of football donors were much larger, the 'Cats would have some evidence to support a riskier move.
As it stands, the Big East remains the only feasible option for Villanova football, and even then, only as a 15th or 16th member. Within the Big East, Villanova would be able to invest enough into the program to offer a competitive team that can attract the fairweather fans.
Otherwise, the fans have to come first, and that won't happen if the Wildcats consistently open the season with a big, high-profile loss.