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FOOTBALL: The Blame Game

A lot of business gets taken care of at the Big East men's basketball tournament in March. Most schools have more than a few officials present at the event, and it becomes a convenient venue for meetings and discussions about conference issues. This March, at least one of the topics of discussion was Villanova's proposed move to playing Big East football. A recent report from the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that Villanova's presentation at that meeting was more informative than persuasive, and a follow-up on TheNovaBlog seems to blame Father Peter and suggest that his "pitch" did not go well.

The question, however, is whether that meeting was even intended to be a pitch. In March, Father Donohue wasn't trying to sell anyone on anything regarding football. No decision had been made -- certainly not by Fr. Donohue -- and the process of reviewing data and raising funds was still ongoing. With that taken into consideration, was it wrong for Villanova's presentation to be more of a "status report" than a sales pitch?

The Big East reportedly never communicated a change in it's position regarding Villanova's membership to the school's administrators -- and perhaps it wasn't apparent that the attitude had changed around the conference until everyone was in the same room. Regardless, it was apparent that at least one school thought that Villanova's stadium plan was not suitable for BCS-level competition (the central criticism that emerged after the April 10th conference-call).

With an announced decision-date in April, Father Donohue likely went into the March meeting assuming that the conference would be interested in knowing how far along Villanova was in the decision-making process and to ensure that the school would make it's decision as-scheduled. A presentation to that effect would have done little to convince a skeptical crowd that Villanova football was the best possible addition for the Big East but it would be fair to assume that the Villanova administration, having been asked to conduct this study by the conference, didn't think that such convincing were necessary.

Most reports suggest that Father Donohue ultimately decided to back the transition to I-A football at some point prior to the April 10th conference-call. From that point on, the university President has surely been responsible for selling Villanova's move to Big East membership.

Perhaps the conference officials were expecting a response more like the one given by UConn in 1997 -- where a highly-motivated athletic director, Lew Perkins, had pushed for a football program upgrade almost from the moment he set foot on campus in 1990. Connecticut had undertaken a full and comprehensive study on the issue, and voted to join the Big East conference in October 1997, two months before the December deadline.

UConn's Rentschler Field

Though UConn had a plan to construct a stadium in place when they committed to the move, it was hardly firm. The Huskies' first plan -- to build an on-campus stadium -- fell through due to the cost of construction and wavering on support from the State Government. A second plan involving a 70,000-seat stadium in downtown Hartford, intended to lure the New England Patriots to the Nutmeg State, also fell through. Ultimately Pratt & Whitney came through with a donation of land in East Hartford where Rentschler Field was ultimately built -- because of delays caused by the failure of those first two options, however, the Huskies were forced to seek a waiver from the NCAA to allow them to play their first few I-A seasons in their on-campus stadium.

As Mike Jensen noted, however, Father Donohue still has the ability to convince conference officials that the Wildcats are as committed to playing competitive Bowl Subdivision football as UConn was in 1997, and that Villanova is a better option for the conference than the current C-USA members whose names we have heard thrown about. The deadline to get the move done to start in-conference by 2014 will be May 31st. Paperwork has to be filed to begin the process with the NCAA on June 1st. Missing that deadline means that Villanova would set the process back by at least a year.