April 13, 2011

Big East Expansion Clusterf**k

Filed under: Big East,Conference,Money — Chas @ 12:37 pm

Take a day off, and recriminations, blame and spin rule on how FUBARed the entire Villanova moving to 1-A level have been.

Nova Blog is probably most accurate in saying that there is plenty of blame to go around for the present mess. While he naturally defends Villanova and sees them as mainly a victim of this — their only true fault was moving too slow on deciding — I do agree that the Big East offices deserve a lion share of the blame.

To recap the process, after TCU was announced to be the 9th/17th Big East member, the pressure and eyes turned towards Villanova to become the 10th Big East football program. They have had a standing invitation for years from former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese and then present commish John Marinatto. Much like UConn had.

Signs all pointed that way, but Villanova insisted that they needed more time to make the final decision. Something that made sense insofar as they needed to make sure they could raise the requisite capital and establish a location where they could play games that met the minimum stadium size requirements for 1-A football (15,000 seats or more).

The campus stadium for the Wildcats seats only 12,000. Expansion seemed limited — and highly unlikely to be approved by the suburban Philadelphia community. The Linc — Philadelphia Eagles home stadium — has a contract with Temple through 2017 that precludes Villanova from using that venue. There were realistically only 2 options with a limited 3d option:

PPL Park, a new soccer stadium that seats 18,500, but was built with the ability to be expanded to 30,000.

Franklin Field, the stadium on the campus of Penn. It seats 52,000 but is quite ancient — bench seating. Factor in having to negotiate with Penn for usage, and Villanova saw little value.

Citizen Bank Ballpark. The Phillies home ballpark. The problem is that the Phillies play baseball there until at least mid-September. Longer if they make the playoffs. Realistically, the Phillies wouldn’t make the park available until Novmember

Villanova decided (reasonably realistically) that the best approach was to go with PPL Park. It would be the right size for the fledgling program and could be expanded in time. This was part of the proposal Villanova submitted to the Big East.

The problems, though, were obvious. A stadium that small creates limited revenue streams. There was no clear plan for when any expansion would actually take place. Even at 30,000 seats, it would be the smallest stadium in the Big East and among all BCS schools. Given the costs of running a 1-A football program in a BCS conference, this was the biggest concern. Forget the “image” issues for the Big East to have a program with a stadium that small. Such small revenue streams beg questions about how they could be run as anything other than a shoestring, budget operation.

Apparently Pitt was not impressed with the plan, and reports surfaced back in the beginning of March that they didn’t like it. Keep in mind, that this isn’t when Pitt started complaining. It’s when the reports started surfacing.

Those complaints and issues that Pitt raised have seemingly spread to other Big East football programs.  This led to an embarrassing move to delay the vote by Villanova on the move, because suddenly that open invitation to join the Big East was not so open.

Rutgers, perhaps West Virginia and some other football school apparently joined with Pitt in finding the stadium issues a huge problem.

But two sources on Tuesday gave virtually the same account, which is that the stadium issue is the only reason the conference is reluctant to turn the informal invitation for Villanova to join that it made in September into a formal solicitation.

“From a football perspective, I don’t think anyone doubts that if they commit the resources, that Villanova can’t follow the Connecticut and South Florida models and move up quickly,” one source said. “I don’t think anyone is looking at Villanova and saying they can’t do it on the field. But the stadium issue just won’t go away.”

The fact that it appears to be more than simply Pitt and Rutgers challenging the stadium situation, also hurts the laughable claim that this is driven by some fear that Villanova would challenge those programs for recruits and attention.

The stadium issue is much bigger than Villanova wants to admit. Cinci, for example, has decided that it needs to bring in more revenue from games and is now going to start playing some of its biggest games at the Bengals Paul Brown Stadium, rather than the 35K seat Nippert. That will kill a lot of homefield advantage when opponents like Louisville and WVU pack their own fans in there, but the program needs it.

Why would the Philadelphia Union (the soccer  team) make concrete commitments to expand the one-year old stadium without concrete assurances that Villanova would play big games there for the long term? What assurances would they get that in 6 or 7 years Villanova wouldn’t move some or all of their games to the Linc?

If you are the Philadelphia Union, you don’t make any concrete plans to expand the stadium until you lock-down a long-term contract that requires Villanova to play games exclusively at PPL. If you are Villanova, the last thing you want to do is tie yourself to the venue and voluntarily restrict your revenue stream and risk missing a window to access the Linc.

From any side of the issue, this is a big body blow to the Big East and Commissioner John Marinatto. He did not have any sense of how the rest of the conference members were feeling about the issues of Villanova until the last minute. He had little control over the situation. Failed to facilitate open communication among the members. Very well, might have given Villanova a false sense that everything was fine with the proposal. For all Tranghese’s faults and missteps, he knew how to keep conflicts under the radar and kept disputes mostly out of the public eye. This one is now playing out publicly, and it isn’t pretty.

On The Banks (Rutgers) sees this derailment as a “line in the sand” moment. Where the football schools and basketball schools are at a point where their interests have diverged substantially enough that the long-expected split may be looming. Considering how many times I have expected and even predicted the split, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Right now, this voting procedure seems to be the most reasonable.

Philadelphia Union management commented yesterday in the Inquirer that they would be willing to expand for Villanova.

Now, the details of that may require some promises and cash, but it’s on the table at least.

Comment by Brian 04.13.11 @ 12:57 pm

The Nunes blob is brilliant!

But I’m with Pitt on this one. You just can’t allow Nova to siphon off the meager revenues streams from the Big East without a solid plan to grow their football program. It almost sounds like they want to play BCS level football without having to put up the money to pay for BCS level football.

Comment by ej 04.13.11 @ 12:59 pm

For some reason, with all the red flags going up around this, I still feel like there’s too much hype and that nothing will actually happen no matter what the result. Yes, obviously Pitt and Rutgers are going to grumble, but Villanova will not get the Linc. Temple has it, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon–if Temple sees a potential threat looming with Nova, they’ll probably re-up in the Linc, as they don’t have anywhere else to play football either. PPL Park at 30-35k would be a pretty nice stadium, and it’s on the same highway (476) that Villanova is on, or just off it, so the commute for Nova students would be a ride on a usually not-crowded-at-all highway, and think about what Pitt students have to sit through before/after a game getting down on the buses. At the end of the day, the schools do realize that recruiting competition happens constantly, no matter what schools are involved…if it’s not Nova, it’d be Penn State or Maryland or Ohio State. They need to expand the conference or risk it being torn apart by outside forces, Villanova is a successful I-AA program and a good basketball program in a key market for the Big East. I think this just plays out as posturing by the BEast schools to make sure Villanova gets a deal worthy of the conference, and not stuck in that awful Franklin Field. But this is all just hypothetical and opinion, keep that in mind.

Comment by merlin 04.13.11 @ 1:06 pm

Clearly the most lucid explanation of a bunch of murky suppositions. Thanks Chas.

Comment by steve 04.13.11 @ 1:21 pm

I actually corresponded with a couple of Nova fans on While they are obviously upset (and I think that is what drives the somewhat delusional claims that Pitt is afraid of losing recruits to them), what they fail to fully grasp is just how big of an issue the stadium is. Their belief is that cash flow from ticket sales is not really that important. I really don’t think they have a sense for what it is going to take, money wise, to move up the 1A football.

Also, their anger at Pitt, Rutgers, WVU, etc., is really misplaced, IMHO. These schools are raising legitimate concerns, and apparently have been doing so for quite some time. If Nova was blindsided by this, then either the folks up in Providence were doing a piss poor job managing the process (as Chas alludes to) or the Nova brass chose to ignore the obvious warning signs and, like their fan base, completely underestimated the importance of the stadium issue.

Comment by Pantherman13 04.13.11 @ 1:22 pm

The idea of conference expansion (or at least what a real conference would do), is to add a school that adds worth to the conference and increases it’s national reputation (see Big 10 adding Nebraska). Adding FCS Villanova and a bandbox soccer field adds no worth to the conference and does nothing on a national reputation basis other than make the BigEast appear more small time than it appears now around the nation. How stupid is this BigEast commissioner or should I ask?

Comment by melvinbennett 04.13.11 @ 1:46 pm

We already have 9 teams. That makes 4 home and 4 away each year. It’s perfect. Why would we drop down so low as to add Villanova with a 19,000 seat stadium. This is so unnecessary and maddening.

Comment by Jamie H 04.13.11 @ 1:57 pm

The football schools in the Big East need to band together and to think big grabbing Missouri, Kansas and K State as well as CFU, ECU, Houston and Memphis. Split with the Catholics and their masters in Providence and re-brand yourself as a football conference first…basketball second.

Comment by TX Panther 04.13.11 @ 2:16 pm

Conference realignment talk again??? Yawn!!!

Comment by Dan 04.13.11 @ 5:07 pm


Comment by Dan 04.13.11 @ 5:07 pm

I read in a Philly paper that it was Rutgers who teamed up with Pitt to cause a roadblock to Nova becoming the 10th FB team

And I will say it again … why in the hell would TCU want to travel 1500 miles to play in a stadium that smaller than many of Texas high school stadiums?

Comment by wbb 04.13.11 @ 5:32 pm

The football side of the conference is a joke. Adding Villanova. Come on. And to say UConn and S Fla have been successful is a joke. Would UConn’s coach leave for Maryland if they were so succesful? He knows that they were lucky to have some succesful seasons but they can’t sustain it. S Fla has been more a disappointment than a success.

Why not go get Central Florida? Adding a 19th basketball team is going to hurt somehow?

The Big East should have hired a man with football sense and knowledge as commish and not some basketball only guy. The sustained success of the Big East basketball teams will all revolve around football. Seton Hall and Providence may have some decent years but nothing that will be long term. G’Town has been overrated most years. Split this league into 2

Comment by BDuBB 04.13.11 @ 6:22 pm

How can the Big East continue under John Marinatto? He is weak, shortsighted, doltish….but let me cease as I wish to avoid undue negativity.

The only way for the football schools to avoid collapse is to get to 12 teams and ‘nova must not be one of them. Almost anyone else would be an improvement Of course the most reasonable answer would be to split. But that will not happen under the dictatorship of Providence. Even Gadhafi still holds to power. Those opposing him are not more angry than those opposing the basketball commissioner with no name or ability.

I suspect that the basketball only schools will now do everything within their power to stop football expansion. Having the basketball commissioner with no name or ability negotiating the next football TV contract is perhaps the most frightful thing imaginable since the cholera epidemic of 1848.

Comment by OhioSteeler 04.13.11 @ 8:34 pm

Boy alot of commissioners on here….. Is it John Marinatto’s goof or the 8 football members not standing up for themselves? Everyone knows the obvious That the Big east football schools will not prosper under this regime either conceeds with better football teams or a split. I don’t think he will have a problem getting T.V. deals and stuff like that done he has been with the big east since 1995, he is just doing what everyone else would do looking out for his homies. I like the football schools and our basketball brand but i wouldnt be opposed to moving to the ACC.

Comment by POLE 04.13.11 @ 10:10 pm

Look if we want a foot print in Philadelphia just bring in Temple they allready play 1A football and there basketball is top notch that way when the splet comes we wont miss Villanova. the only reason they want nova is for there foot print in philly and there basketball and temple takes care of that. and if we dont care about philly than take Houston or a school from Florida.

Comment by FRANKCAN 04.13.11 @ 10:15 pm

Chas, I feel like I said this the last time that idiotic ramblings from the Nova Blog became a hot topic, but I want to thank you anyway for not being a douche. Unlike the guy at the Nova Blog. Seriously, every time I read that A-hat, I’m thankful that the Pitt blogging community has you instead of that guy.

Comment by Brian in BK 04.13.11 @ 10:44 pm

Here is the 12 teams that we need in a new basketball and football leage we bring in memphis and temple to help keep up our basketball rep we add UCF because there are a lot of football players in Florida and TCU because of football. then the rest Cincy Pitt Connecticut louisville Rutgers SouthFlorida Syracuse WVU. that gives us 12 teams we will still have agreat basketball leage bye the add of Memphis and Temple sill have foot print in philly still have 2 teams from NY can still play our champenship in the garden that is the way to go.

Comment by FRANKCAN 04.13.11 @ 11:38 pm

IF you want to be in the fast lane then come with a fast car. Nova can’t truly expect to benefit from D1 stature (revenue, exposure) off of the backs of the remaining BE D1 schools?

why would any good business person allow Villanova to join the BE D1 FB programs with limited resources? If they are going to jump in then go all in with regard to facilities, financial commitment, Media exposure etc. If not then stay D2 or whatever they call it these days.

Mark Nordenberg is a great visionary for PITT and has always had a keen eye for PITT and its future. We should thank him for not letting Villanova get in on the cheap at the expense of the remaining BE FB schools that are spending millions to promote their product.

On a final note, if Villanova or anyone else thinks that PITT is posturing because of some fear of competition then they clearly are stuck on themselves. PITT has its problems but it is still the most recognizable football program in the BE. If anyone doubts these then research the TV rating (ESPN etc) when PITT plays (versus of the other BE schools). PITT still has national appeal despite their limited success.

This is simply a case of not letting the tail wag the dog. The BE FB schools don’t need Nova.

Comment by Pitt fan in Atlanta 04.14.11 @ 8:37 am

wbb – from what I understand, there had to be at least 3 football schools against the current proposal to block it. Speculation is that the third school (in addition to Rutgers and Pitt) was WVU. I also wouldn’t be surprised if any of Cincy, UConn or Syracuse voted against it, although each of those schools may be more afraid of a conference split.

I still think the ultimate issue was that there was no firm commitment from PPL Park to expand. If Nova and PPL can execute a binding commitment letter with a reasonable timeframe for expansion, I think this gets approved. Pitt may still be opposed (unless there is some additional agreement to move big games to Franklin Field of the Linc), but enough of the other schools may come around to make it happen.

Comment by Pantherman13 04.14.11 @ 9:59 am

[…] More on the Villanova at PPL Park nonsense. […]

Here is how I look at it – even if Nova can throw tons of money into a 1A program they don’t have access to the facilities to make it possible in the near term. Period. Even though their revenue ceiling would automatically be lower than anyone in the BE because of the stadium, that revenue could be much higher than playing in sub-level conferences.

For me, the question becomes do the benefits of bringing them in outweigh the increased costs each team in the BE is going to pay to add this rent-a-victim to their schedule? I would venture to say that BE football schools would be better off without Nova, because if nothing else they will be paying more per season to bring them in (in the form of lower share of BE revenues) then they would for a 1AA OOC opponent.

Comment by Big A 04.14.11 @ 10:26 am

[…] other universities are getting cold feet because they realize the obvious: Villanova isn’t ready for top-tier football. Spin it however you like, but that’s a […]

[…] Pitt Blather Permalink » Big East Expansion Clusterf**k […]

Revisiting Temple in the BigEast shouldn’t even be considered seriously. We’ve been there before, Temple despite all the hoopla concerning Al Golden, never even won a MAC title under him. Temple has never had good attendance at the Vet or the Linc. except for the occasional game against Penn State (meaning 70% of the crowd is PSU)
They will become irrelevant(not that they became relevant) now that the Golden boy is off to Miami. The football schools should want to look to the future, not the past. Temple is part of the BigEast football past. Looking to the future would be adding teams/schools that would actually be excited in joining the BigEast and would add financial worth to the conf and a new tv contract. And that would be Houston, UCF, ECU, SMU & Memphis. If you want to try to make a bigger imprint in Texas(and why wouldn’t you), you would want to add Houston for sure (4rth largest city in America) and perhaps SMU.
And UCF would be elated to be added and gives you an even larger imprint in Florida. What 2 states are 2 of the 3 biggest for football & football recruiting, dah…..Texas & Florida. This shouldn’t be that hard for these high paid people to figure out. ECU will always be considered small-time as Greenville NC is and Memphis is a poor excuse academically for a college and has no tradition whatsoever in football and when aren’t they on probation in basketball. Thanks but no thanks.

Comment by melvinbennett 04.16.11 @ 2:20 pm

When Villanova doesn’t even have enough clout and pull to be able to expand their own facility where they have space because of pressures of the local township, why should anyone let them in using a stadium that’s a) too small, b) scheduled behind what the Union need for regular season and perhaps playoffs (MLS Season runs until late October, and Playoffs to right before Thanksgiving) and the most important part c) 40 minute commute away from campus.

It’s bad enough on the student turnout for a 3 mile drive on shuttles, there must be a helluva lot of Maui Wowi on ‘Nova’s campus to think that they’ll have a favorable home crowd at football games. They also only have budgeted $25-30 million for “transition costs”, where the Union would be asking for ‘Nova to foot the bill on the expansion costs as well as account for the revenue hit the team will take in attendance for their primary use (soccer). With 30k seats the value of holding a season ticket would go down the toilet, and ticket prices along with it.

Comment by Brian R. 04.18.11 @ 11:49 am

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