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.
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.