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Should Villanova be insulted?

Villanova was blocked from joining the Big East conference in football back in April, in part by two schools that have since left for the ACC and Big 12. The Wildcats were never told, "no," by the Big East, however, and the two sides continued to work on the issue until the Big East was hit with the surprise departures of two football members, which were later followed by the move by TCU and now WVU to head to the Big 12. For Villanova and its fans, the current status of the football program in relationship to the Big East is a frustrating situation.

A year ago, Big East football seemed like it was a sure thing to come to the Main Line (or to Chester, PA, anyway), as long as Villanova wanted it. Now, the Wildcats' program is hardly even being talked about as a candidate in the media.

Temple is being talked about, however, as are Memphis, BYU and East Carolina. The Wildcats are an FCS football program that would take a minimum of two years to transition to bowl subdivision (FBS), a prerequisite for joining the Big East. They would need an invitation from an FBS conference before they could make that move.

Who would invite Villanova football other than the Big East, however? Once the Wildcats are up-and-running at the FBS level, they would surely be looking to move football into the same conference as basketball in short order, and basketball is going to be in a power-conference if Nova has anything to do with it. If you were the MAC, Conference USA or even the Sun Belt, inviting Villanova to play football is potentially a short-term enterprise; why make that investment?

It has also been suggested that the 'Cats may not be interested in moving to a non-BCS league for financial reasons. According to the Daily Local News:

Moving up is a huge financial undertaking, and several Big East sources have said that while Villanova is willing to make the jump, it is not going to make that kind of hefty financial investment without the benefit of being in a BCS conference.

"It doesn’t make financial sense (to move up) unless you’re part of the BCS," one Big East source said. "It’s financial suicide otherwise. I don’t think Villanova will do anything before the Big East works out a new television deal."

At the FBS level, Villanova's football budget would double or (more-likely) triple on an annual basis in order to stay in line with the spending of other schools in the Big East. That spending doesn't include an initial outlay for facilities that would also be expended -- though that is a lesser concern as the program will need new investment in facilities regardless.

Waiting for a Big East tealevision deal means pushing off a potential upgrade by years, so 'Nova may not wait that long, but certainly will want some sort of television revenue projections. The Big East, meanwhile, will be less-motivated to expand again immediately after signing a new TV deal, so Villanova's window of opportunity would seem short.

Should Nova be offended by the lack of discussion of their program, however?

The Wildcats have had plenty of success in FCS, but how does that equate to a BCS conference? There is certainly reason to believe that the 'Cats could improve their program by building new facilities and providing greater resources. The greater exposure of the Big East would also be helpful in attracting talent.

Certainly, the Wildcats can't be more competitively damaging to Big East football than a down-on-its-luck Memphis would be.

The process of moving up, however, will always be a bump in the road, but wasn't UConn afforded that opportunity? The Big East would argue that Nova had the same opportunity, but let it pass in 1997, but UConn wasn't admitted in '97 -- they were voted in a few years later, after going back to the drawing board on their stadium plan a few times.

The Wildcats' stadium plan was reportedly a major stumbling block for the Big East in April. 18,500 seats will not do, but indications are that the Philadelphia Union would be willing to expand their stadium to at least 30,000 seats in order to secure a (likely long-term) lease with Villanova football. PPL Park might even be able to expand a little more than that.

So is the stadium really an issue? Of the six reported Big East target members, all but two currently play football in stadiums that are smaller than 35,000 seats. SMU and Houston* play in 32,000-seat stadiums and Boise State's home field seats 33,000. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium has a maximum capacity of 34,000.

If the discussion is about Television markets, however, the only market added that ranks close to Philadelphia is Dallas. Brands and ratings matter too, though, and Boise State is building in both of those areas. Memphis doesn't even scratch the top-20, and despite the Tigers' strong basketball brand, their national relevance doesn't really carry over to football.

Nonetheless, the decisions made thus far were football decisions. Markets were added, as were teams that can help the Big East to maintain its status as a BCS AQ conference. Villanova should not be insulted by their place in expansion thus far -- these were moves that the conference had to make.

One more team is needed to get to 12 football members and the Big East will reportedly try to recruit BYU as a football member to fill that spot and to provide a some easier travel for western members. BYU football has it all - success, a good stadium, a solid market, brand and television ratings. Villanova should not be insulted to be passed over for BYU at all.

If BYU opts to remain independent, however, Villanova should be offended if Memphis or another football non-entity were given greater consideration. Villanova can't claim to be Alabama in football, but if the Big East doesn't even consider Villanova (and consider doesn't mean "invite," for the record) in a conversation that includes some lesser FBS football programs, it would be nothing short of disrespect.

Temple, the Big East, and Duties

The West Virginia lawsuit's extensive discussion of fiduciary duties makes you wonder if any of this applies to Villanova. Doesn't the conference and its membership have fiduciary duties to Villanova? If so, have those duties been violated?

The answer isn't simple. A fiduciary duty arises from a "special relationship" between parties. Often, business relationships will be sufficient to form these duties, and an athletic conference is by definition a business relationship between the conference members. All of the members of the conference owe certain fiduciary duties to the conference.

These duties are not likely breached so long as the Big East Conference itself remains strongly positioned and decisions are not made by members of the conference for purely selfish reasons. For example, in the ACC, Boston College likely breached its duty to that conference when they moved to exclude UConn from expansion for reportedly selfish reasons (because they were sued by UConn and because they didn't want another team in New England) rather than for business reasons. BC's breach was likely harmless to the conference and it would be difficult to prove damages to the conference or any member; BC did not owe a duty to UConn, only to the other 11 ACC members at that time.

So do those duties in the Big East extend to a point where Villanova could sue over being denied access to the football conference? It is unlikely that the duty extends that far. Nova can clearly demonstrate damages from that conference decision. But the Big East could just as easily point to Villanova's FCS football status and say that adding an upgrading program was not in the conference's best interest. Maybe Nova can prove otherwise, but at this point it isn't worth expensive litigation to make a point.

If Villanova wants to argue that Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Rutgers acted in bad faith in blocking the move back in April, it would likely require solid evidence that the stadium issue was a sham for those schools to act in self-interest. That would almost certainly mean documents (emails, letters, memorand), which may or may not exist.

The Big East ultimately can't act arbitrarily regarding Villanova's desire to play FBS football in the conference. They can decline to invite the Wildcats, however, and there likely wouldn't be an issue with fiduciary duties.

What about Temple though? As noted in the BC example, nobody in the Big East owes a duty to Temple. Villanova can block their membership if they have a reasonable business basis to do so. Villanova would have to compete with Temple in the Philadelphia market for fans, merchandise sales, and most importantly, ticket sales. Keeping the Owls out of the conference means that the two schools might compete on the hardwood, but not at the cash register.

On first glance, that seems like a move backed by self-interest, but is it? This isn't Boston College trying to keep a team over 100 miles away out of their conference, Temple is less than 15 miles from the Villanova campus. More importantly, the two schools share a television market. How much does a second school in a television market add to a conference TV contract?

The answer is likely, not enough. Then again, adding a football program in that market might help even if basketball doesn't, which is why Villanova is not attempting to block the Owls from gaining a football-only invitation to the conference.

Villanova officials have gone so far as to tell reporters that they would support a move to add Temple for football, despite having reservations about offering them full-membership. Without a Big East football program, Villanova has no clear basis to block a football-only invitation for the Owls.

If the Owls were added for all sports over Villanova's concerns, however, the league might be in danger of breaching a duty to Nova. Having been made aware of the potential financial harm to the Nova program from having local competition, the Big East would be acting affirmatively to cause harm to a party to which they owe a fiduciary duty. That could perhaps be excused if there were no other option or if the decision were necessary for business, but in this case, there are other schools that can be added in all-sports, in new markets, and the football-only option for Temple remains on the table.

Without a sudden change in that situation, Villanova is likely well within its rights to demand some form of compensation from the league in exchange for Temple being brought in as a member in basketball. If you believe Jay Wright, that compensation could be an invitation to play Big East football (which would even the financial playing-field for the schools), or it could be something else.

The point is that Villanova doesn't need the non-football schools to vote against Temple joining in all-sports. The conference walks a tight-rope of Villanova's rights and privileges as a member if they invite Temple over the Wildcats' objection.

Slight rebuttal - Rivalry

When speaking with the press yesterday afternoon, Big East commissioner John Marinatto was asked by a reporter whether there was a possibility of both Villanova and Temple being in the conference. He never answered that question head-on, instead he changed the topic to USF and UCF, two relatively-close schools that will likely be Big East rivals soon.

"Those kinds of rivalries drive value," Marinatto said, noting that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a Big East consultant, had reiterated that point. "That's obviously part of the mix. There are a lot of factors that go into the mix."

Of course, though Tagliabue's former employer has many great rivalries, and even some in nearby-cities (Giants-Eagles?), it doesn't have many teams sharing a single market. The lone exceptions are the Giants and Jets and Raider and 49ers -- neither pair shares a conference or plays regular, annual rivalry games.

USF and UCF are nearby, but exist in different cities and different television markets. It may be a bus trip rather than a flight between the schools, but for fans in Tampa hoping to watch a Big East football game, driving to Orlando is not a trip they will take lightly if USF is playing at home. Those two schools won't have nearly as much competition at the cash register as two schools that shared a city or a single market.

Would Villanova and Temple have a compelling rivalry, though? For one day per year in basketball, they absolutely would, assuming Villanova could stay financially competitive with a Big East version of Temple (which would have tens of millions in football revenue in addition to the basketball share). Is that enough value for the conference? Considering that even the most compelling Big East basketball games still draw worse ratings than some mediocre football bowl games, I would argue it is not.


* To be completely fair, Houston has plans to build a new stadium that would seat many more people.

Basketball Season is right around the corner. This post has been sponsored by Pro Dunk Hoops.