As you have probably seen by now, the Daily News broke the story Saturday evening that there have been "preliminary discussions" between Villanova's athletic department and the Philadelphia Union about having the Wildcats' football team play at PPL Park.
I covered last night's Union game for my soccer blog, The Goalkeeper, and after the 'Nova story broke I asked Union president Tom Veit for more information. Veit is a former associate athletic director for external affairs at the University of South Florida. So he fully understands what Villanova is trying to do, and also the dynamics currently at play in the Big East.
(It is not a coincidence that the men's soccer teams of Villanova and South Florida will play at PPL Park later this fall.)
Below, you'll find a transcript of my interview with Veit. I hope you'll share your thoughts on his remarks in the comments. And I hope that those of you who don't pay too much attention to soccer will be respectful towards the soccer fans who will be here to discuss the issue.
The next few paragraphs are thoughts from me that I've also posted on The Goalkeeper.
From everything I have read in the media and heard from my sources, there is still a very long way to go with this. I would not make any assumptions about what will happen until we get official statements, especially as regards the decisions about what facilities Villanova will use.
This is especially true regarding PPL Park. There are dynamics at play with the Union and with Major League Soccer as a whole that are very specific to soccer facilities. They are unlike any Villanova would have to deal with at Franklin Field or Lincoln Financial Field. In particular, the philosophical objection on the part of the Union and MLS as a whole to gridiron lines at soccer-specific stadiums will be very, very hard to overcome.
The move to soccer-specific stadiums is a large part of what has brought Major League Soccer legitimacy from fans in the U.S. and around the world. When soccer teams play on top of gridiron lines, there is a definite feeling of second-class citizenship. Even those of you who are new to soccer can understand why that is the case.
Having said that, PPL Park also presents advantages in terms of scale, amenities and availability that the Linc and Franklin Field do not offer. So it should not be ruled out.
Q: Have there been any discussions with Villanova about them playing here?
A: Very preliminary. We've been approached by Villanova about this being an option for them to play at, and we are always open to discussions. For us, although there would be a lot of questions for us to answer - which all may have answers - but first and foremost, this is a soccer faciliy. It will always be geared to that. With that said, if there's a possibility to do something else, we definitely would look at it. We're very supportive of Villanova. Being a former Big East guy myself, I'd love to see it happen. So we're definitely willing to look at the possibility.
Q: One of the stumbling blocks, I would think, would be gridiron lines. Would you be willing to have gridiron lines on the field?
A: No. That would be one of the things we'd have to work out, to figure out a way that they wouldn't show. MLS has a league directive that you can't have football lines on the field, unless you're in New England or some place like that.* So that, field conditions and all that, are things we'd have to look at. With that said, there could be answers to all those. So again, it's a soccer facility first. But if we can accomplish that and be able to help Villanova, we're more than open to talking about it. We're at the very, very preliminary stage. Really, Villanova has called and said, "Would you talk to us," and we've said, "We'd be more than happy to."
[* - The New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders play in the NFL stadiums owned by the NFL's Patriots and Seahawks, respectively. The Houston Dynamo play in the University of Houston's stadium. The directive is aimed at the soccer-specific stadiums owned by MLS franchises, including PPL Park.]
Q: Given your prior experience with the Big East, is this stadium currently too small for what the Big East wants to do with football?
A: You'd have to ask the Big East, but I think it's a possibility. There's a possibility that the stadium could be expanded, there are a lot of things going on. But I don't think it's necessarily too small.
Q: Knowing what you do, if there was to be expansion, what do you think would come first: expansion of the stadium or Villanova playing here?
A: You know what, that's a big hypothetical. I have no idea.