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Reading Tea-Leaves Made of Pigskin

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There is no getting around it: Villanova football was embarrassed by Temple last week. Bernard Pierce broke some big runs and Mike Gerardi was barely challenged by a five-man secondary. The 'Cats had flashes of brilliance on the field, but flashes don't win games.

When this matchup was played in 2003 or 2008, that 42-7 result would have been met with little comment. Villanova's FCS program isn't normally expected to beat an FBS opponent, and blow-outs in those match-ups — even when they involve highly-ranked FCS teams — aren't unusual.

Eastern Washington retained the number-one position in this week's Sports Network FCS Poll despite losing at Washington. Six of the top eight teams in that poll are currently 0-1 after their first game, and the two that won over the weekend played FCS or lower opposition. Appalachian State (13-66 loss to Virginia Tech) and William & Mary (40-3 loss to Virginia) were both top-3 programs before being decimated in week one and neither has dropped from the top-five.

Only one school in the top-10 beat an FBS program and Richmond's victory over Duke hardly rose to the level of Appalachian State's stunner over Michigan in 2007.

Nonetheless, Villanova's loss to Temple received a lot more scrutiny than any other loss by an FCS program to a Bowl Subdivision opponent — because of the discussions that the school had been having with the Big East throughout the last school year, and which are reportedly still ongoing in some sense.

The schellacking brought out commentary in that sense from all corners: Fans of Villanova, Fans of other Big East schools (or schools that want to be Big East schools), the homer columnists, and even the respected national football writers.

Comments like, "can we finally stop the Big East talk now? This comes from an '09 Nova grad, btw. Don't want a 2-10 team every year." Which landed in my Twitter inbox on Friday morning. Then there was Mike Bianchi's column — keep in mind that this is the same writer who suggested that the SEC boot Vanderbilt in favor of UCF — where he wrote:

. . . did you see where Division I-AA Villanova got pummeled 42-7 by Steve Addazio-coached Temple on Thursday night. Yes, the same Villanova that the Big East is thinking about inviting as a football member instead of UCF? Good grief, the leadership of the Big East has all the foresight of that Decca Records executive who once rejected the Beatles and told them "guitar groups are on the way out."

Brett McMurphy from CBS Sports weighed in during the second half of the game, to say, "I'm guessing after this seal clubbing by Temple, Villanova has lot more than stadium issues to overcome to get Big East invite." When faced with the suggestion that it was not a fair comparison, he replied, "maybe so, but certainly doesn't help their case much by not being competitive against MAC team."

It doesn't help their case that Chris Whitney was one of the most efficient passers in the nation last season, and it won't help their case if they blow out Towson on Saturday. It won't help Baylor's case to get into any power conference that they are currently in a power conference. The list of things that don't help a school's case is infinitely longer than what does.

In fact, only one thing does help a school's case: MONEY.

That's what this is all about. Conference expansion isn't driven by football or basketball or wins and losses, the driver's seat is occupied by, in the words of Randy Moss, "straight cash, homey."

Boise State wasn't on top of the Pac-10's list last summer, and the Big XII didn't call them the second they lost Colorado and Nebraska. If wins and losses mattered at all, Boise State would be swimming in BCS Automatic Qualifier money like Scrooge McDuck right now. Wins and losses are great PR, and they are brand-building for sure, but they are not driving this bus.

The fact is that you can't predict the future in college sports. TCU was added to the Big East with the expectation that they'd be a perennial contender in the conference, a powerhouse program that will consistently win and give the conference a shot in the football arm. That is hardly a guarantee, however. In fact, it is all-but-assured that TCU will be left out of the BCS this season after opening with a loss to Baylor on Saturday, and there is no guarantee they will be a national title contender when they join the Big East in 2012.

That doesn't make them a bad addition, however. With the influx of addition TV revenue, the Horned Frogs should be able to continue to invest in their football program at a high level going forward (and relying less on boosters to do it). More importantly, TCU will allow the Big East to extend it's brand into another massive television market for as long as they are part of the conference.

Looking back at Villanova's loss on Thursday, what does it really say about the Big East?

Villanova wouldn't join the Big East's football league until at least 2015 under the current thinking of the athletics administration. That means that, assuming there are no injuries or other redshirts over the next few years, nobody who played in the 2011 Mayors Cup is likely to play a snap of Big East football.

The Wildcats are four years, twenty-two scholarships and millions of dollars worth of investment into facilities and other aspects of the program away from where they would be if they were to join the Big East.

So what did the Mayors Cup say about a Big East Villanova football program? Nothing at all. In fact, UConn played football for 103 years without making a single postseason appearance. In 1998 they made their one and only FCS playoff appearance. In 2004, UConn joined the Big East conference, won 8 games, went .500 in conference games and won their first ever Bowl game. Since 2004, UConn has finished with 8 or more wins 5 times and made the postseason in all but two seasons.

UConn became a competitive member of a BCS conference without much tradition or history of football success. In their last season before beginning the transition to I-A football, UConn was crushed by a .500 Kentucky team.

While they weren't nearly good enough for their BCS berth last season, the Huskies have hardly been a doormat in the Big East since joining. There are as many similaries between the two schools as there are differences, but the point is that a program that transitions from FCS to a BCS conference is essentially hitting a 'reset' button -- what they did before doesn't matter nearly as much as what they will do in the future. UConn invested in football and hired people who would help them build a program, and they were able to make a successful transition.

An FCS program can only have 63 scholarship players in the program at any one time. Every so often, graduation can leave a school like Villanova starting young players who aren't quite ready for prime time. Add 22 more scholarships to the picture and depth makes it far easier to withstand the loss of 12 starting players.

Villanova has done a tremendous job of building a football program — give credit to the coaches and staff members who have made that the case. The people in charge now are largely the same people who turned the current iteration of Villanova into one that has had only 5 losing seasons in the 25 seasons since football returned to campus and has made 9 playoff appearances, 5 quarterfinal appearances, 3 semifinal appearances and one national championship.

That is a bit of a track record at building up programs. One game, one season, doesn't matter in the long term.

Do the 'Cats even have a seat at the table?

On Monday, the New York Times' Pete Thamel reported that the Big East has reached out to "multiple" Big XII schools to offer them a BCS landing spot if their conference were to fall apart. The Big East isn't planning to try and poach schools from the Big XII, but if Oklahoma and Texas decide that there is no chance of saving the conference, the Big East will gladly welcome some new additions from somewhere other than C-USA.

The question is: Which schools has the Big East spoken to?

Last summer, the conference presidents were in favor of inviting Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State from the Big XII's north division had the conference disbanded. Since then, the addition of TCU leaves only room for 3 more all-sports additions, unless the Big East were to expand well beyond 20 all-sports members.

Assuming that Texas A&M makes their move to the SEC official and the rumors of a Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech move to the Pac-10 are correct, it would leave Baylor, Kansas, Kansas-State, Iowa State and Missouri outside-looking-in from the Big XII. Of those, the Big East probably has the least interest in Baylor, a small private school that is an hour-and-a-half away from Fort Worth, Texas, Baylor has very little football tradition and would not likely bring in a market that the Big East doesn't already have a presence in.

Of the others, Iowa State is also not a tremendous addition for the conference. Ames, Iowa is not a major market and the Cyclones are likely to always be overshadowed by the University of Iowa when it comes to the interest and television sets in the state. The one thing Iowa State has going for it is that the population of Iowa is slightly larger than that of Kansas.

Of the five "leftovers," two have all-time winning records in football: Kansas (.510) and Missouri (.540). Missouri would be the real prize of the group because of their success in football and basketball, the large population of the state and it's access to the #21 (St. Louis) and #31 (Kansas City) television markets. The Jayhawks would also be a fit with the Big East specifically because their basketball brand will draw a national television audience and add a true blue blood program to a conference known primarily for basketball.

Iowa State and Kansas State? People have speculated that Kansas State is tied to Kansas and that in order to get the Jayhawks, you have to let them bring their friend. That's all well and good, but if the Big XII is dissolved, Kansas won't have much leverage to force K-State on a conference unless a bidding war emerges. Iowa State would add a third new market for the Big East if chosen over K-State, but the Des Moines-Ames television market would be among the smallest in the conference. To bring in three former Big XII schools, the Big East would face a difficult choice.

Then again, Missouri will probably get a look from the SEC as their 14th team.

If any group of three schools is added to the Big East without including Villanova football, the 'Cats will be left out, to sit around with Georgetown and Providence wondering how long the conference will survive with 20 basketball teams.

Leverage is everything

Villanova has very little leverage in this situation. Without an Bowl Subdivision football program to offer, the other power conferences are unlikely to look to the Wildcats as a first-choice addition in the event of a raid or expansion. In fact, according to Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com, the ACC/Big East raid scenario he believes most likely is for the ACC to grab Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers.

Villanova could sit back and enjoy Big East basketball in one division of a 20-team conference for a few years while it lasts, of course, but how long can that be feasible, and can it even be as profitable?

If Athletic Director Vince Nicastro and President Father Donohue are going to maintain Villanova's place in college athletics through this current state of conference expansion, they will have to find a way to generate some leverage. Make new friends, call on old friends, and maybe find a way to suck up. Villanova is a great asset to Big East basketball, but the school is not indispensable to the football conference, and right now those schools are running the show.

So here it is: Villanova's only way to create leverage is to rally the basketball schools (and maybe a basketball-first football school or two) to insist that the all-sports membership be capped at 19 schools. With 19 all-sports members, each school can play each other in hoops at least once during every season while still maintaining the current 18-game schedule.

It also ensures that the football league can't get to 12 members without adding Villanova, Notre Dame or a football-only school. Of those options, Villanova football would likely be the easiest and most palatable addition.

If they can't do that, then the Villanova football Powerpoint presentation had better be a good one.