How can 'Nova play football with the big guys?

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Andy Talley and the Villanova football program could move up to the Big East. (David Swanson/Staff file photo)

Villanova honchos have an important decision on their plate - the future of their athletic programs. They are deciding whether to play Big East football, to move up from what used to be called Division I-AA, to move out of Villanova Stadium and find a bigger place for their ambitions.

Here are some questions and answers to consider as they finish up their assessment:

Question: Can Villanova be a big-time football school?

Answer: This decision isn't really about that. The smart guys know that this is a basketball decision as much as anything. Villanova doesn't want to be left on the outside if BCS schools break from the schools that don't play big-time football. That's the biggest issue here.

Q: Is the Big East big-time football?

A: Not from what we've seen on the field this year, not at all. But the quality of play isn't as important as the quality of the checks delivered and the likelihood that they will continue to be sent. As long as it is associated with the BCS, the Big East is big time.

Q: Will the Big East keep its BCS status?

A: That's the multimillion-dollar question for Villanova, one the school can't afford to be wrong about. The Big East can easily withstand losing a Rutgers to the Big Ten, but if the Big Ten does more poaching, grabbing two or three schools, and then the ACC grabs another couple of schools, Big East football could fall apart. Villanova would have spent a lot of money to go big time without actually ending up in the big time.

Q: Has the Big East been pressuring Villanova for an answer?

A: Not yet, we're told, but that pressure starts now, since the announcement earlier this month that the Big East is committed to expanding from eight to 10 football schools. Villanova makes sense for the league since it already plays in the Big East for all other sports. The league will quickly move on from 'Nova (possibly to Temple) if the answer is no. Villanova has a board of trustees meeting scheduled for December. As of now, there is not expected to be a formal vote about football at that meeting. Word from the Main Line is that Villanova might not have an answer until early next year. It will be interesting to see if the Big East waits that long.

Q: There have been some reports that Villanova has already told the Big East it is coming. True?

A: False. Villanova has made its interest clear and doesn't want the door closed. But it hasn't walked through the door yet or even telegraphed its entrance. The school is in what might be termed the "engagement of donors" phase of its fact-finding.

Q: Can Villanova make money playing Big East football?

A: That's not the right question. Villanova loses money now playing football in the Colonial Athletic Association at the Football Championship Series level, even as the defending national champion. The school spends almost $5 million, while taking in just $1 million in revenues. Expect the school to try to hit roughly that same mark right off the bat in the Big East, allowing for about a $4 million hit. The difference is that the school's spending will triple, but the TV and bowl shares would make up for it.

Q: What is the biggest expenditure?

A: Right off the bat, Villanova knows it can't keep housing the football offices underneath the stands at Villanova Stadium. It will need to build a facility for football like it did the Davis Center for basketball. If the Davis Center cost roughly $20 million, think more than $30 million for a football center, with offices, locker room, weight room, etc. That's outside of the yearly expenses.

Q: Any chance Villanova will upgrade Villanova Stadium for Big East play?

A: None.

Q: So what's the top stadium option?

A: There have been preliminary talks with PPL Park, the MLS facility in Chester. The fit would be fine for most games, since you can't expect a South Florida game to draw more than 18,000. But a game or two a year could go to Citizens Bank Park, Franklin Field, or the Linc.

Q: But the soccer team doesn't want football lines on its stadium. A deal-breaker?

A: An important issue but probably not a deal-breaker since lines can be scrubbed off.

Q: Is the entire Villanova community in favor of this move?

A: From what we hear, no. There are some influential figures who wonder what a Division I-A football culture would mean for the school.

Q: Would Villanova be content to be a bottom of the Big East football member?

A: That isn't the intent, obviously. The idea would be to be competitive, not just to get by.

Q: Is that a reasonable goal?

A: By adding 22 scholarships, it's a very reasonable goal. William and Mary from the Colonial was beating North Carolina two weeks ago but seemed to run out of gas. An extra 22 scholarships probably puts enough gas in the tank. The same could have been true in Villanova's game against a strong Temple team in this year's season opener. Andy Talley's Wildcats have skilled guys and some top-level linemen. They just need more of them.

Q: What are the Title IX ramifications?

A: In addition to adding 22 football scholarships, from 63 to the required 85, Villanova would be looking to add 22 scholarships to existing women's sports. However, existing programs should realize that down the road, if expenses need to be cut, it probably wouldn't be football taking the hits. At least that's the track record at other schools. West Virginia dropped a 98-year-old track program in 2003. This year, California-Berkeley announced that five sports would be dropped from intercollegiate status - three men's sports (baseball, gymnastics and rugby) and two women's sports (gymnastics and lacrosse).

Q: What's the timetable for a move to Big East football?

A: If the decision is made by very early in 2011, Villanova would stay in the Colonial for 2011, be a provisional Big East member for two years, then become a full member in 2014.

Q: How would Villanova try to make money during the transition?

A: By playing some big-time teams, getting guarantees of well over $1 million.

Q: If Villanova ends up in a basketball league with Georgetown and other schools that don't play big-time football, is that such a bad thing?

A: The fear is that the BCS leagues will gain more power in the years ahead. Real conspiracy theorists conjure up a split with the NCAA. But assuming that doesn't happen - that such a move would take the label of "amateurism" completely away - the BCS schools will call the shots and get most of the money. And if Villanova isn't competing with Louisville and Connecticut and Pittsburgh and others in basketball, it's reasonable to think it will be tougher to get to a Final Four even from a league with Georgetown, Providence, and Marquette and maybe a Xavier. The biggest-spending schools typically are the ones advancing in March.

Q: So what's the guess: Will Villanova make the move?

A: The guess is yes, that Villanova will not risk losing out on maybe its last chance to be big time in all sports. If Villanova could stop the clock right now - keeping its place in the Big East for basketball, playing one level down in football - with a guarantee that nothing would ever change, the school would not make this move. But that's not an option.

Q: Worst-case scenario, Villanova moves up, and Big East football falls apart after Villanova makes the upgrade. What then?

A: Villanova might make the case that it would be a perfect fit for the ACC. There's no reason to think the musical chairs will stop any time soon.

 


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.