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Expansion Apocalypse: BIG EAST Meetings

Regardless of how the Board of Trustees decides next month, conference expansion and realignment will have an effect on Villanova athletics -- good or bad. This week, the BIG EAST conference is holding meetings in Philadelphia for university presidents and athletic directors, and expansion is reportedly on the agenda.

The BIG EAST football schools want to expand their side of the conference, and according to one athletic director, "I don't think we're going to get pushback" when seeking the blessing of the University presidents to seriously pursue additions. According to the New York Post's sources, if the presidents approve the plan, invitations could be issued to TCU, Houston, Central Florida, or Temple before the end of the football season.

It is rumored that both TCU and Central Florida are highly interested in making the move. While Central Florida would expand the conference presence in Florida's fertile recruiting grounds, adding TCU and Houston would expand the reach of the conference into two very large television markets and potentially open up recruiting in the state of Texas.

Philadelphia, on the other hand is the 4th-largest television market in America, and is one that has been missing from the football side of the conference since Temple played it's last Big East season in 2004. While Villanova was able to block Temple from all-sports membership in the 1990s, an all-sports invitation may be demanded by the large Philadelphia University in order for them to return to the Big East football fold.

The only way Villanova will likely block Temple's membership this time around is by accepting football membership themselves -- a decision on that is looming next month. By allowing Temple to join the conference as an all-sports member, the Wildcats would be faced with having another strong major conference basketball program in their own backyard. A school with a much larger alumni base and student body and with the ability to inject public money into their program to increase competition. A Temple/Syracuse tilt may even someday bump the Wildcats from the Wells Fargo Center schedule.

According to reports, however, Villanova football would be prioritized over Temple as it is the option that least-upsets the current state of the basketball conference. It remains to be seen if the football schools plan to "sweeten the pot" for Villanova football by offering up incentives to the program to join. It may take a strong financial offer to sway the Trustees in one direction or another.

If expansion is not approved, there is strong concern among the non-football members that the football members may be considering a split, a move that would cripple the earning power of Big East basketball.

H/T to reader NovaGrad2003 for the story.