Larry Goanos a Villanova Class of '84 alumn has offered a viewpoint against Upgrading Villanova Football.
Football "Upgrade" Brings Villanova Downgrade
The majority of people reading this blog posting probably have never attended a Villanova Division IA football game.
Not that this fact makes me an expert, but it does significantly color my opinion on the possible football "upgrade" that's being considered.
Shortly after arriving on campus in August of 1980 as a freshman, I signed on to write for the sports section of The Villanovan. The first football game of the season was at home against the University of Maryland. The upperclassmen on The Villanovan staff were headed away that weekend for a retreat of some sort (or, quite possibly, a party -- I never found out which -- but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say "retreat.")
The sports editor handed me a press pass and said "Here, you're covering the football game. Pay special attention to number 55, Howie Long. He's the star of the team. Try to interview him after the game."
In the autumn of 1980 only four Catholic colleges in America were playing Division IA football: Villanova, Holy Cross, Boston College and Notre Dame. Villanova would drop football altogether the next spring, just about the same time that Holy Cross was downgrading to Division IAA. Boston College and Notre Dame still remain the only Catholic universities in Division IA [forgive me, a traditionalist, for not using the contrived FBS and FCS acronyms.]
I know this is a bit of an aside, but back to the Maryland game. We lost that day, 7 - 3, despite Howie Long blocking a punt and playing ferociously throughout.
Sheepishly, I approached Villanova's star player in the locker room afterwards. Even sitting down, he was more imposing than my standing 6-foot frame. I was shocked to see him crying. Clearly a fierce competitor, he seemed devastated by the loss.
Being the rookie reporter that I was, I asked him this hard-hitting question: "Howie, how did it feel to block that punt today?"
Dumb, I know. You don't have to tell me.
To my great surprise, he immediately stopped sobbing and answered that, plus all of my other inane inquiries, as politely and intelligently as you could imagine. One of us would go on to national acclaim as media figure on Fox Sports and elsewhere. I'll let you guess who.
Now back to the point: Despite having a future NFL Hall-of-Famer on the field that day, and, I believe, three other players who would clock time in the NFL, only about half of the 12,000-seat stadium was full. Most of the people who I knew in my short time at the school were still out in the parking lots tailgating and listening to the game on the radio.
That entire last year in Division IA, with a pretty good team, it was difficult to coax people into the stadium and away from their mobile parties. Even "official" attendance figures, which were not impressive, were misleading because half of those tickets remained in people's pockets at the tailgates.
Gathering up a head of steam to support a football team through thick-and-thin is just not hard-wired into the systems of most Villanovans. I doubt that any of the committees or sub-committees studying the situation have a mechanism to measure this, but I firmly believe it to be true.
Here are rebuttals to some statements you may have heard:
Money Won't Be An Issue: The administration estimates that it's going to cost approximately $35 million to upgrade to Division IA. Does anyone who has received the University's numerous entreaties for donations by mail, e-mail or telephone seriously think we can afford to shell out that kind of money? Especially considering that our endowment is disproportionately small compared to many similar institutions?
Division IA Football Will Be A Cash Cow: The NCAA says that more than 80 Division IA football schools run their athletic departments at a medium deficit of $8 million annually. If big state universities with a huge fan base can't turn a profit, how will Villanova?
Going Big-Time In Football Is The Wave Of The Future: These schools have dropped their football programs in the last ten years: LaSalle, Hofstra, St. Peter's, Siena, Iona, St. Mary's of California, St. John's and Northeastern. The last two have over 20,000 students each and couldn't even support IAA football. And Villanova is going to support IA with less than half of that number?
Facilities Will Be No Problem: When Villanova played Division IA football at its on-campus stadium, we had trouble attracting students to the games. Under the current proposal, which contemplates an off-campus facility (how far off nobody knows), how do we rationally expect to convene even larger crowds? Especially when we'll probably be getting blown out by more established IA programs for the first few years (if not for longer)? I love watching Ohio State and Michigan go at it; I wouldn't enjoy watching Ohio State beating Villanova 64-3. And I'm being generous with that field goal.
Division IA Football Will Enhance The University's National Visibility: Villanova enjoys national recognition as it is now, thanks to our outstanding basketball program. Any added accolades or name recognition stemming from IA football would seem to be negligible; if you're a college sports fan, you know Villanova. And it seems to me that an initial investment of $35 million and an annual investment of $8 million could buy a lot of meaningful advertising to make up for the lack of IA football.
Villanova is Big-Time In All Other Sports, Football Should Be Too: Anyone who truly knows Villanova and its institutional ethos, knows that we do not belong in the same category on the gridiron as Nebraska, Tennessee, Penn State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida State and the like. And the argument about not wanting to get "stuck" in a basketball-only conference? Tell me what's so bad about being lumped in with the likes of Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Xavier and DePaul if need be? They have all had winning traditions in the past (Georgetown and Xavier still do) and they may very well once again. St. John's already has one of the top recruiting classes in the country for next year under its new coach. Not having football doesn't appear to have hurt their basketball program.
Our Great Basketball Program And Academics Will Attract Great Football Players: Hmm, I don't know, let's ask the good people at Duke what they think of that argument. Their football team hasn't been ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll since1994. That's more than 250 consecutive weeks of non-appearances. If we aspire to a poor-to-mediocre showing in Division IA, then great academics and a strong basketball program would seem to be a good springboard.
It's a mystery to me as to why we may think that we are so different from all of those other independent (and Catholic) colleges who have elected to forgo Division IA football, or football altogether. Why do we think we can succeed when very few others can?
I do know that I have seen Division IA football at Villanova and it didn't work then, and I have no reason to believe that it will work now. Like that punt by Maryland on a September afternoon in 1980, I think the movement to "upgrade" Villanova football should be blocked.
Larry Goanos, a commercial insurance professional, lives in New York City and writes a humor blog, for fun, at www.lgreport.blogspot.com. He's also written a book, but you'll have to Google him if you have any interest, which we suspect you won't.