With UMass expected to announce a move to Division I-A football in the MAC today, Villanova finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. Should the embargo be lifted by Big East objectors, there would be no problem and Villanova football would be able to safely land in the Big East conference by 2014. If those objections remain (and it sure sounds like Oliver Luck isn't budging) it is beginning to look like the CAA may not be a viable conference at the FCS level.
Even if UMass leaves, but the time they withdraw from the CAA (after the 2011 season), the Georgia State Panthers will be ready to take their place. Compounding the problem, however, is the fact that URI will leave the conference for the NEC at the same time -- Leaving 9 schools in the football league.
That may not be the end of the bleeding. UNH and Maine, both schools whose primary sport is really Hockey, would be geographically isolated from the rest of a conference that otherwise would be largely concentrated in the southern states.
While geography may not play a large role in the formation and expansion of conference membership in the big-money world of FBS football (especially with the addition of TCU to the Big East), it is a painful reality of the FCS. With smaller budgets and lower revenues, FCS schools rely on being able to travel cheaply to away games. Without other New England-based opponents, UNH and Maine would likely have to fly to all of their away games. A expense that could break the backs of their respective programs.
It is possible -- in fact, probable -- that the two remaining New England schools will find new homes for football and withdraw from the CAA as well. That would leave the conference with 7 members.
It is also believed that a number of CAA schools have also been considering moves to FBS football. James Madison continues a building program that has constructed great training facilities and a $90-million expansion of their stadium. Delaware has also been discussed as a program that could move up, though they draw well at their current level and may even turn a profit from the program (the latter being unlikely in FBS).
If any other football program were to leave the conference (including Villanova), the CAA would lose it's automatic bid to the NCAA football tournament. Under NCAA rules, a conference must have at least 7 teams to qualify for an automatic bid.
The CAA will likely have to act now to add football membership and ensure it's survival. In 2014, however, it will be a dramatically different-looking league, however, and most of the expansion-candidates will be south of the Mason-Dixon line. Fordham is the only real northern candidate for expansion (unless Stony Brook can escape it's deal with the Big South).
In other news, West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, seems to mention that the Big East asked him to refer questions about Villanova to the league office a lot before answering those questions about Villanova. In his latest public statement he told a West Virginia radio station:
"There are two sort of questions I think that people have," Luck said. "One is really what are the facilities that Villanova is able to use and how do those fit into the Big East with what we have now with our football schools. Are those really at a level that are BCS, automatic qualifier appropriate for a conference like ours? I think that's the first question and obviously the conference didn't feel quite comfortable with all the information regarding what I would call the infrastructure question."
"When we talk about adding a 10th member, the question is what does that 10th member bring and what are the other options, quite honestly," Luck continued. "It's sort of like buying a car, you don't go and just look at one model. You look around and say what are the different options, what are the different prices, and what are the plusses and minuses? I think a lot of schools were interested in having a better sense of what other possibilities would be out there."
Luck's statements about Villanova seem to confirm that Villanova's issue was primarily one revolving around PPL Park. It also suggests that the concern is largely one of image for West Virginia -- they don't want the Big East's football image to be further tarnished by a too-small stadium.
Will 30,000 seats be enough, or will Luck & Co. want to shop for something closer to 50,000 that comes with a non-flagship state university? Frankly, if Villanova were to pull together a plan to expand PPL Park to 30,000 seats and was still spurned in favor of an outside option, it would be a shot across the bow and a tremendous sign of disrespect for an athletics department that has won 19 team national championships and fielded one of the most successful all-around programs in the conference.
Also, please check out the excellent work by Joseph Santoliquito of Patch.com, who noted in his latest piece:
There are some Big East schools that aren’t bubbling with enthusiasm over the prospect of Villanova entering the Big East. Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are allegedly the schools in the way. There have been reported concerns about how a small school like Villanova, relatively speaking to West Virginia, Rutgers and Pitt, actually benefits the league. But another more serious underlying issue is that Villanova will be tapping into some of the fertile high school recruiting grounds in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the Delaware Valley area that currently being mined by that trio of Big East schools.
UPDATE 5:19pm: There appears to be some confusion about this, but the UMass football upgrade has demonstrated that Villanova will not have to file any paperwork on June 1st of this year in order to move to the Bowl Subdivision in 2014. The deadline for filing that paperwork is actually June 1, 2012 according the the NCAA bylaws.
What this means is that the drama over Villanova's football program could carry on for months longer than initially expected.