Las week the Villanova Football staff had it's first look at the inside of PPL Park, and the coaching staff came away impressed. There were no concerns about the ability of the stadium to host Division I college football.
Initially there were some reports that the locker rooms might be too small to host a varsity football team. According to Andy Talley, however, the locker rooms at PPL Park were not only acceptable, but better than most of the stadiums Villanova will travel to this season — except for the Linc.
"I’ve read they are a little smaller," Talley said before the visit, "and so that might mean that we would have to maybe just bring a smaller travel squad to dress. We actually have the same problem when we go to Delaware, their locker room will not allow 56 spots, so we end up having the rest of our team come down the day of the game in warm-ups on the sideline and we just dress 50 or 51, whatever it is, because it’s real tight."
The stadium was reportedly built with football in mind, according to University of Delaware football coach, K.C. Keeler.
"I know Rob Puccini, who built the stadium," Keeler noted. "He built it for soccer, but in time he had a vision that football could play there also. I think it’s going to be an exciting venue and I think our fans will be excited about it."
Villanova officials are high on what PPL Park can offer. It has been consistently described as a "World Class" stadium by people at all levels of the athletics department.
That may be one reason why the 'Cats are booking so many events there. Villanova's football game against Delaware will not be the first time a Villanova athlete takes the field at PPL Park. Men's soccer hosted South Florida there last October, and Women's soccer will take on cross-town rival Penn at the Chester stadium on September 9.
Would the Wildcats move their FCS football program to PPL Park entirely?
"I’m not sure that that’s something that we would do in the future," Talley thought. "I think that the opportunity to play in Villanova Stadium is still a good opportunity for us. I obviously like our home stadium."
That doesn't mean, however, that this November's football game will be the first and last. Villanova is trying to make a statement by playing their biggest FCS rival at the Chester stadium.
"I think with the talk about that potentially being a place we would play, this is a nice opportunity to kind of showcase it a little bit, and get down there and see what a Villanova/Delaware crowd looks like in a stadium like that," Talley postulated. "I suspect it will be sold out and really, everybody walking away saying, ‘wow, this is a neat venue.’"
Even if the 'Cats don't join the Big East in football, the possibility of playing Delaware at PPL Park every other year is still an attractive one according to the coach.
"Maybe this is something that we would want to do in the future . . . Delaware/Villanova games. Obviously it’s twice the size of our stadium, so when it’s our home game, it might be beneficial to play it there."
"I would have no problem leaving the confines of Villanova Stadium to play there if we had a packed house, given that tailgating would be there, and we would present a very nice gameday atmosphere, which at Villanova is a little tougher to do."
For Football, the benefits are more than just greater size and amenities, however. The game day atmosphere on the Main Line has been notoriously lacking in recent years. Strained town/gown relationships prevailed over school spirit a long time ago in Radnor Township, and tailgating at football games was severely limited for most.
"You know I’ve coached there when we had a great gameday atmosphere back in the day, and you know since they’ve held the tailgating back, I think it affects the gameday experience," Talley said. "It would help our team, and jazz our team up to have more people at the game and more people excited about the game, based on the full-day activity."
Those limitations won't be applicable at PPL Park, which is located on the Chester waterfront, is far from the long-arm of Radnor.
"I think we would draw more people, if people knew they could come there and have a picnic. Unfortunately everyone always associates wild and crazy parties at a tailgate, when most of the Villanova people enjoy the camaraderie of a tailgate picnic, family and friends, nice weather, hanging out by the car, going to the game, a couple drinks after the game and you’re out of there. It’s not the rowdy craziness that people think it would be."
At PPL Park, fans can have the full game day experience, tailgating, beer, football, pep bands and cheerleaders,all while enjoying the comforts of a state-of-the-art stadium. Unlike Villanova Stadium or Franklin Field, there is not a bleacher bench to be found at PPL Park, and also unlike those other stadiums, there are luxury boxes and premium seating options for fans who prefer them.
If Villanova football is going to make the great leap to FBS football, a new stadium is an absolute necessity. Even an expansion of Villanova Stadium, if permissible, would likely be lacking in the modern amenities that most fans have become accustomed to.
More importantly, building a new stadium wouldn't make good fiscal sense for anyone.
Villanova is located in one of the nation's largest metropolitan areas. In addition to PPL Park, there is a Major League Baseball stadium, an NFL Stadium, a world-class arena, the college arena and stadium at Penn, and a myriad of other venues that all compete to host events.
Nobody involved in building PPL Park thought that the stadium would be supported financially by a single Major League Soccer tenant. The plan was always to try and attract additional events, but with so many other venues in the area, concerts and shows never materialized.
Instead, the Union officials have had to fill their open dates with college soccer games charging $5 at the gate for general admission, college rugby tournaments and Lacrosse.
All of that is why the Union is dead serious about reeling in Villanova football as a tenant — whether full-time or just for a game or two every year. It is also why Villanova shouldn't even consider building a brand new stadium of it's own.
There is no way that a college football schedule in itself, consisting of 6 to 7 home games every year (and perhaps a spring game), could support the maintenance and operations of a stadium that could cost as much as $100million to build.
Most newly built or renovated college stadiums host other events as well. Rutgers has hosted NCAA Lacrosse Championships, high school playoff games, soccer, and concerts. Milan Puskar Stadium at West Virginia also has hosted concerts. UConn's Rentschler Field is also home to the UFL's Hartford Colonials, international soccer, rugby, outdoor hockey, and major concerts. Louisville's Papa John's Stadium has also hosted soccer and concerts, as well as high school sports, and even televangelists. The Carrier Dome has also long-held events beyond football.
In fact, many of the college programs located in major metropolitan areas play in leased stadiums. To name a few: USC leases the Coliseum, UCLA borrows the Rose Bowl, Miami shares a field with the Miami Dolphins, Tulane plays their home games at the Superdome and the Big East's own Pitt and South Florida both rent their game days from the local NFL franchises. Locally, Temple has opted to play in a rented stadium for decades.
The difference is that those facilities are not in locations where there is nearly as much competition to land events of the like.
Last weekend's Taylor Swift concert filled Lincoln Financial Field to capacity, and there was little chance that TSwift's management would have chosen the smaller confines of PPL Park or even Citizens Bank (which was also available) to host the event. All alternate sports, concerts, circuses and events of all sorts will have a myriad of options in the Philadelphia area, and Villanova would struggle to fill a schedule at any new stadium construction.
Even if Villanova can provide the funding to build a new football stadium somewhere in the Philadelphia area, the school would struggle to pay for the upkeep on that stadium. That is why PPL Park is the primary target of the Villanova athletics department: building a new stadium isn't feasible in any sense, and PPL Park has the fewest drawbacks of the available options — especially if it were to expand to seat 30,000 spectators.
Part of Villanova's discussion of moving the football team to the Bowl Subdivision, was a plan to build a multi-million-dollar football training facility. Something similar to what the Davis Center offers for basketball, but on a larger scale to accommodate the needs of a football program. Facilities of that sort have been built at BCS AQ conference schools and non-AQ conference schools alike.
"It’s something that we need to stay where we are," Talley said of the training facilities. "Take a look at our league: JMU, W&M, Richmond has a brand new stadium, Towson, and if you look around, it’s what’s happening at Division III schools. Division III schools are trying to be competitive with each other academically to get quality kids and they’ve upgraded their athletics facilities tremendously."
Schools from the highest levels of college football to the lowest have been investing in facilities for their football programs, while Villanova is still asked to make due with one practice field (they used to have Pike Field as well, until the Softball team moved in) and a barely-adequate weight room located under the north stands of the football stadium.
With each passing season, Villanova football's facilities fall further behind those offered by peer schools, let alone at schools from the Bowl Subdivision.
"So, whether we go I-A or not, that is something that we have to work very hard at doing. The I-AA kid is now in a situation where facilities mean a lot more to him than in the past."