Information and speculation have run wild about Villanova’s Big East football setback this week and a resolution, once imminent, may be more than a month away. Villanova was sent back to the drawing board by Big East conference-mates who pointed at PPL Park as a their primary concern. It is believed that the dissenting schools have asked Villanova to provide more concrete guarantees that the expansion of that stadium will occur sooner rather than later.
The concern is apparently a matter of image for the football schools, who don’t believe that an 18,500-seat PPL Park would leave television audiences with a favorable view of the Big East (I would offer that winning likely impresses TV audiences more than stadium size). At this point it is presumed by many, but certainly not clear, that an expanded 30,000-seat PPL Park would be a better option.
For their part, Philadelphia Union officials have stated publicly that expansion of their stadium is an option they are interested in pursuing, though, not likely on their own dime. The Union's plans are more long term, but they left open the possibility of accelerating those plans if Villanova were to sign on as a tenant.
Villanova's discussions with Union management have been ongoing and Vince Nicastro referred to the facility as, "world class" in a recent Philadelphia Daily News article.
Villanova will work with the Big East to resolve the stadium issue as well as any other issues that may have been raised over the weekend and the Trustees will vote on the matter after the league office has given a concrete invitation. The decision will have to occur before May 31st, however, since that is the date that Villanova would have to file paperwork with the NCAA to begin the process of moving up in time for the 2014 season.
While the DelcoTimes' Terry Toohey reported that some schools "expressed financial reservations " about Villanova, the Wildcats' proposed football budget was apparently on-par with the Big East average.
While the football schools will decide if Villanova’s program is ultimately voted on for admission to the football conference, a recent article on Philly.com suggests that the vote on Villanova’s football membership – which would have to be 75% in favor – may actually come down to full conference membership, non-football members included. If that is the case, then Villanova simply needs to get their proposal brought in front of the full membership and they may be rather confident it will pass.
The non-football schools greatly prefer an internal option, and since Notre Dame is unwilling and Georgetown is unable, Villanova football would likely be their only hope. Internal options ensure that the basketball league doesn’t further expand and become unwieldy, or suffer from the addition of too many football-first schools.
It isn’t necessarily just the non-football schools that prefer to expand the football conference that way, however. Of the 8 members of the Big East football conference, only two of those schools make a larger profit on football than basketball. At schools like Louisville and Syracuse, football may be popular, but basketball controls the purse strings.
If the conference isn’t able to work out a suitable arrangement with Villanova, they may expect to find it difficult to add a tenth football school from outside the existing membership. The Big East is already the largest conference in college sports, and an all-sports membership of 17 schools is likely to already be unwieldy. The prospect of adding an 18th mouth to feed for the sake of the conference’s second-sport is unlikely to garner much support.
The concept of a conference split has also been on the tips of tongues lately, but a split into two separate conferences is really only feasible if all of the football schools agree to do so. Barring a better offer from the Big Ten or ACC, one might think that an all-football conference with 12 members would be favorable to all eight schools (nine, once TCU joins), but those same football schools that prefer an internal expansion to protect basketball interests would also be somewhat cautious about breaking up what has become, by far, the most profitable basketball conference out there.
Ultimately, perhaps, those schools could come around to a split, I suppose, and it has been an option that was on the table for the Big East since the ACC raid.
Speaking of the ACC, Patch.com posted a report that a "source close to the ACC" had this to day about Villanova's situation with the Big East:
"With Boston College and Maryland already in the ACC, Villanova is a great media hub and centered right in the middle for a perfect fit," said a college source close to the ACC. "If the Big East is hesitant, don’t be surprised if you see the ACC swooping in and making an invitation. Villanova is a very attractive school, in a very attractive area of the country. I’m sure the ACC wouldn’t mind that media market. Just a thought."
"Just a thought," indicating that there is no real discussion, offer, or option for Villanova to bolt to the ACC at the moment.
In fact, expansion on the ACC's part probably isn't on the table at all. They just entered a brand new contract and would have to slice the pie thinner to accommodate one or more new members right now (unless they can renegotiate their new contract upon adding a new member). Football-wise, however it doesn't make a lot of sense to expand beyond the magic-number of 12 -- unless you are adding a major national draw, like Texas or Notre Dame.
If the ACC were to expand, it would likely be an attempt to maximize their basketball profits by adding northeastern powerhouse programs -- Villanova might be an option in that regard, but schools like UConn and Syracuse would likely need to come along for the ride. Where such a move would leave Villanova football, of course, we don't know.
Luckily, since a move to the ACC still seems highly unlikely, speculation on that topic can stop right there. At least until that conference signals an intention to expand again. For the purposes of Villanova's negotiating leverage with the Big East, however, it can't hurt to call.