The rumors swirled around the internet on Thursday that an email was sent out by Father Donohue to faculty and staff, informing them that a feasibility study for a football upgrade was underway. Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News has now confirmed these reports.
Prior to the labor day weekend, Big East commissioner John Marinatto visited the Villanova campus to inform the athletics and academic administration that the Big East football schools would like Villanova to become the ninth member in their sport.
The athletics department will now begin an in-depth evaluation and once-again consider a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Athletic Director Vince Nicastro stated:
"As you might suspect, this is a complex issue, which entails many dimensions — both quantitative and qualitative. While we will move forward on this as quickly as possible, it is critical that all of those dimensions are vetted thoroughly prior to making any final decision."
Kern reports that Villanova has been informally looking into this move for about a year, but a formal and complete set of due diligence will have to begin now.
While there is no timetable set for a decision, it is believed that the Big East conference would like an answer by the end of the year. Some rumors have suggested that a decision could be made as soon as November, which would coincide with the annual meeting of Big East conference presidents.
An announcement of a ninth member in November may have strategic value for the Big East, as the Big Ten meetings are scheduled for December and additional expansion may be on their agenda.
The biggest differences between this Big East football invitation and Villanova's last offer in the late-90s?
“I do think people are much more aware, especially of what happened this summer, of the changing landscape of college athletics, than they were 15 years ago,” Nicastro said. “They sort of knew it was out there, but now it’s real. Conferences are realigning, schools that have traditionally been in conferences for many, many years have shifted affiliations. Things nobody thought would happen have happened.
“And the conventional wisdom is they’ll continue to happen.”
The other difference is Jay Wright. Coach Wright has been a proponent of the football program at Villanova recently. Along with most of his team, Wright attended the Mayor's Cup game this season. He also has a good working relationship with Andy Talley.
In order to make the move, Villanova will need a venue. On this, Kern writes:
Where Villanova would play is an issue. Temple calls Lincoln Financial Field home. Sources said that makes it unlikely Villanova also would play there. Villanova Stadium has a capacity of 12,000, and the prospect of enlarging it apparently is not feasible. The NCAA requires 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home games for FBS schools. The attendance requirement must be met in one year over a two-year period.
A viable venue is the new PPL Park in Chester, which holds 18,500 for Union soccer games. And there is room for a few thousand portable seats, as well as a potential for more permanent additions. Other possibilities could include Franklin Field, and maybe even Citizens Bank Park (at least in November), now that Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field are being used for college football.
A move would also require the funding of 22 additional football scholarships, along with an offsetting move (adding women's athletic scholarships or getting rid of mens elsewhere) to comply with Title IX. Infrastructure upgrades to the weight rooms and practice facilities would also be required.
The Big East may offer to schedule home games against Villanova that would include guaranteed payouts, to help offset those costs during the transition period.
If the administration decides to upgrade football, the 2011 season would be Villanova's last one in the Football Championship Subdivision. After that, there would be two transitional years. Villanova could become a full member of Division I - FBS as soon as 2014.
The email from Father Peter Donohue to the faculty and staff of Villanova read as follows:
A Message Regarding Villanova Football
Dear Faculty and Staff:
I am writing to share with you some recent conversations that have taken place regarding the Villanova Football program and its relationship with the Big East Conference. As you know, the program currently competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly known as Division I-AA. The student-athletes, coaches, and administrators are excellent representatives of the University and have established a winning tradition that culminated with a national championship last year.
The landscape of college athletics continues to face dramatic changes and there has been a great deal of speculation over the past few months regarding conference realignments nationwide. The Big East Conference has not been immune to such speculation and Villanova’s position regarding football has been frequently discussed on the internet, in the media, and among alumni around the country.
Prior to Labor Day, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto paid a visit to Villanova and reported that the football schools were interested in adding Villanova as a football member of the Conference. We currently compete in the Big East in all other varsity sports, however, joining the Conference as a football member would require that the program move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A. This would represent a significant change for the University and its Athletic Department.
As part of the University’s Strategic Planning process, the Board of Trustees Athletic Committee has been studying all of our athletic programs. After consulting with our Board’s leadership and the President’s Cabinet, we have decided that the most prudent course of action is to expedite our timeframe and embark upon an in-depth and thorough evaluation of this opportunity presented by the Big East. This is a complicated issue with many multi-dimensional factors that come into play, and it is important that we investigate scenarios related to making?or not making?such a move.
More than likely, you will read or hear speculation from outside sources as we conduct this assessment. I ask you to consider it just that ? speculation. As we undertake this evaluation, I can assure you that a decision will be made only after the Board of Trustees conducts a careful and complete analysis. We will do what’s right for Villanova and will not jeopardize our community-wide commitment to meeting the University’s strategic objectives.
I will keep you informed as we move forward through this process.
Father Peter Donohue, O.S.A.