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Villanova has facilities issues that will compound over time

Schools big and small are participating in the all-important facilities arms-race, leaving the Wildcats in their dust.

Mitchell Leff

In 2012, SUNY Albany averaged 4,004 fans per game at their University Field, an outdated facility that the school was preparing to vacate for new digs this fall. Reportedly, they averaged 6,800 at the newly-built 8,500-seat Bob Ford Field this season, and now they want more. The new football and soccer stadium was built at a cost of $18 million and includes a big video board and luxury suite seating, and UAlbany officials are looking to spend $20 million more to expand the stadium.

The Villanova Wildcats averaged 7,144 fans in 2012, according to NCAA reports, in a season where the 'Cats won a piece of the CAA's asterisked-title and went to the playoffs. The Great Danes averaged 3,140 fewer fans that season, and now are planning to expand their stadium to 24,000 seats, two-times the CAA's average.

Albany isn't the only school spending big to improve their stadium offerings. The University of Wyoming has now secured funding to spend $30 million on a thorough renovation of their Arena-Auditorium. The Cowboys' new-look will include a locker-room replacement, new strength and conditioning, and sports medicine facilities, a reconfiguration of the court area, and more comfortable 22-inch-wide padded chair-back seats in the lower bowl. The Pokes have also spent tens of millions on additions and renovations to their football stadium as well.

These two state schools have the advantage of some government funding for their facilities. Wyoming will receive at least $10 million in state money toward their renovation, while Albany has not yet announced how much of their expansion project will be paid by New York state. The State covered $18 million of their most recent $24 million building project, however, so taxpayers will likely handle the lions share of future expansions as well.

The largesse isn't limited to the public universities, however.

Syracuse University is looking to build a new 44,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium to replace their 34-year-old Carrier Dome. The facility would be slightly-smaller than the current facility which seats 49,000 (many of those seats are unusable for basketball). The Orange aren't thinking small, however, with a plan to spend $495 million on the construction, which would take place over a four-year period.

The private university has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and officials from Onondaga County, who will be contributing funds to the construction of the facility. Like with Albany, the exact amount of the public contribution remains unknown at this time.

Outside of Division I, schools like Mary Hardin-Baylor have also been cutting big checks to build or improve facilities. The Division III football program that only launched in 1998 opened a $50 million stadium this fall.

Villanova's crown jewel basketball team, meanwhile, is playing in an outdated and undersized 29-year old basketball arena. The football team, which plays in the same league as Albany (and has had considerably more success) calls the 87-year-old Villanova Stadium its home. Neither has the creature comforts or amenities that fans come to expect when attending a game, and neither do these facilities tend to be as impressive as those that peer schools can show to recruits.

The University of Louisville, for example, has used the relatively new Papa John's Stadium and Yum! Brands Arena as massive new revenue-generators for it's programs. The future ACC member Cardinals will not struggle to keep up with the spending demands of competing with schools like Duke in basketball and Florida State in football, because their facilities provide them with the financial firepower to do so.

Newer and better facilities look impressive to athletes. They are fan-friendly. They are an advantage for their schools.

Make no mistake, in 2014 Albany doesn't need 24-thousand seats for their football program. They may not need them in 2018 either, but the university is taking a forward-looking approach to their athletic offerings. Similarly unmistaken is Villanova's need to make similar improvements over the current outdated offerings, but for the Wildcats it is different.

Villanova doesn't have any well-defined plans for the football stadium or basketball venue. Some renderings - that have not been deemed final - of a proposed renovation of the Pavilion have been shown to alumni, but no timeline for construction is set and no support from local government has been sought. It remains very possible, in fact, that such support would not be given.

The Wildcats are struggling and falling behind in the arms race.

Improvements can be made and should be made as part of the school's comprehensive development plans. Building in suburban Philadelphia is a game of delicate politics, but so was the process of obtaining government funding for a private university like Syracuse's football stadium -- if Villanova wants to keep up with the Joneses, they need to learn the Joneses tactics.

Part of the Syracuse development is the promise of a greater development, a 250-room hotel, 160 apartments and 150,000 feet of retail space -- the type of development that those state and local government bodies were desperate to see built. Syracuse also plans to pay rent for the building, sending revenue back to the government. They found a way to sell their plan, Villanova has yet to do that.

The longer they wait to make improvements, the harder and more expensive it will be to improve.