clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An Open Letter to Mark Jackson, Villanova's new Athletic Director

VU Hoops welcomes the new Athletics leader... then tells him what the fans want to see.

Dear Mr. Jackson,

First of all, congratulations on joining the Villanova family. The fans are energized by the prospect of a new era of visionary leadership that can help to prepare the athletics programs we love, not only to meet the challenges of the future, but to succeed in spite of them. This is an athletics program that has succeeded over the years in spite of playing a game of catch-up off the field, and could be something even better if it were consistently ahead of the curve.

For a school with undoubtedly-high ambitions in basketball, Villanova has one of the worst home arenas in the country. Sure, there are schools with worse arena situations, but few of them exist at a school that has owned the record for attendance at a regular season basketball game in their state.

Villanova averaged 8,943 fans at home in 2014, according to the NCAA. That number may not smack you in the face, but it will soon, as you start to dig into the details of the new job. The Villanova Pavilion seats just 6,500, and they absolutely pack it in at the giant Wells Fargo Center for the three-to-five games they play in South Philadelphia every season. An 8,943 average isn't a fluke statistic; it's a sign that the Pavilion is well-undersized for a program that attracts big time attention from alumni, the media, and (even though many deny it) Philadelphia at-large.

The current Pavilion is an albatross around the neck of winning team. With a larger more modern facility, the program could bankroll its own future by generating bigger revenue. Additional seating will draw more revenue from ticket sales and better concessions will draw dollars out of the pockets of fans. It seems like every March someone writes up a study that shows that the teams with the most success correlate well with the ones who spend the most money; it seems reasonable to invest in projects that will maximize revenue to ensure that the Wildcats stay on the winning side of those studies.

Yes, the local township will resist, but even in the face of that resistance, there will be a solution that is better than a cosmetic touch-up that maintains or lowers Pavilion capacity. A truly creative solution is what Villanova needs.

With that said, Villanova may not be in Missouri, but alumni want you to "show me" what you've got before they mobilize en masse to support an arena project. Villanova fans have heard precious little about facilities projects like the proposed arena renovation, and putting it out there for average-joe-alumnus might just lead to some very open and honest feedback (and donations) to help drive the project.

Its has also been reported that Villanova has looked for a corporate sponsor for the arena project. No company is likely to spend significant money to have their name read out a handful of times on Fox Sports 2 when Villanova hosts DePaul. The Pavilion (and Villanova generally) is not a hugely-visible facility from the highways and major roadways around Philadelphia, so the main value in naming rights is attached to game viewership -- playing all of the biggest-interest home games off-campus saps the value right out of the naming rights. Move the team to a 10,000 (or more!) seat facility with modern concessions, and play every game there, and the Wawa Center at Villanova becomes more realistic.

Speaking of selling things, a lot of alumni have issues finding and buying athletic-logo gear online. Athletics should consider working with Nike and the bookstore to make more gear available for sale online.

As for football, the program has always had it's issues. Before basketball really took off at Villanova, football was competing at the highest levels and had a pretty good amount of success. That was why alumni rebelled against the administration when they announced a decision to kill off the program in Spring 1981. Since Andy Talley came in to revive the program in the mid-1980s, the gridiron Cats have been a big success on the field.

They've done this despite rather minimal (if any) support from the administration. It is a far cry from a school like USC where the campus bleeds pigskin on Saturdays from the President's office right down the chain. At Villanova, the football torch is maintained by a group of very dedicated alumni and students. They brave awful weather, an awful stadium, and awful tailgating culture every Fall for the chance to watch dynamic players like Brian Westbrook, Matt Szczur and John Robertson.

Even more fans were sorely disappointed when excitement over an FBS move turned into bitter disappointment four years ago. With all of the past and future changes in the athletics landscape, Villanova football needs to be nimble, self-aware and ready to go. Villanova needs to decide what its football aspirations are.

In the mid-1950s, Villanova identified Villanova Stadium as a factor holding the football program back -- they played all of their big games in Philadelphia at a rented MLB stadium (sounds familiar?). Ideally, they needed an upgrade to the Main Line stadium that was built in the 1920s, but they never got around to it. Villanova still inhabits that stadium today. As inadequate as 12,000-seats and two heinous bathrooms were in 1955, those facilities are still inadequate today.

Football deserves a game day experience that reflects the quality of the program on the turf.

Villanova may even want to steal an idea from Boise State (and West Virginia before that) for both revenue sports. The Broncos created a 14-member fan advisory committee to provide input to the athletics department on how to improve the experience. The diverse committee has helped Boise to increase engagement with fans, and to create a game day experience that has drawn out bigger or better crowds.

Being the AD at Villanova isn't necessarily an easy job, but it's a job where you will have a passionate base of fans and alumni rooting for you to succeed. This is a school with a wealth of unrealized potential, the AD who taps into that to bring it to the fore will be remembered well after the day he retires or moves on.


VU Hoops