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OPINION: Say No To ‘Nova

Villanova would use PPL Park in Chester as their home field.  With 18,500 seats PPL Park is just over half the size of the Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, the smallest facility in the current Big East with 35,079 seats.

Finally, in what might be the first sign of sanity from Big East football schools, some braking was applied to the proposed Villanova football upgrade plan.  Whether or not you’re an original member of the league, adding Villanova to the ranks of Big East football is a bad mistake.

It’s obvious college football is a big business.  You can reminisce all you want about the way things used to be, but the status of college football today is based on money, power and prestige – and precious little of each can be found in the current Big East football conference.

Adding TCU was a step in the right direction.  You could stop at nine and achieve the scheduling balance long desired by conference teams – four games at home, four on the road – or you could expand out to ten, eleven or twelve.  If that were the best route for the Big East then Villanova should not be a candidate for one of those three slots.

Villanova is a first rate school with a great basketball program and a very respectable FCS football team.  It is small and land locked in Villanova, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Philadelphia.  In making their pitch to the Big East schools Villanova took the approach of “OK, here’s what we can do” – and that just wasn’t good enough.  Rutgers said so and Pitt chimed in along the same lines. 

The first and maybe most prominent problem is where to play.  Villanova proposed PPL Park in Chester, an 18,500 seat soccer facility.  Nova backers were quick to say the place could be expanded to 30,000 but declined on saying by whom or when.  Even then, this small, unsuitable stadium would not remotely be at the minimum standards of a team in a BCS automatic qualifier conference.

Here’s the rub.  Even if Villanova could move into Lincoln Financial Field downtown or talk the Phillies into turning Citizens Bank Ballpark into a football operation on fall Saturdays – the Wildcats are not what this football conference needs.  A second school in Florida or maybe even a second in Texas – or both – would be much better options.  Villanova doesn’t land the Philadelphia television market, and neither does hometown Temple. That is clearly a Penn State market.  The Nittany Lions are probably not available and we all know that Notre Dame isn’t coming in the Big East so it’s time to be creative and maybe it’s time for the inevitable – a split between Big East football and basketball.

If Central Florida, Houston and Memphis would join Texas Christian, then viable television markets would be added and core Big East teams would make an annual trip to two of the most important recruiting states in college football.  The football conference could become a stand-alone all-sports conference that would remain very competitive in basketball with Syracuse, U Conn, West Virginia, Pitt, Louisville and Cincinnati, plus the new additions.  A 16-game conference schedule would make sense.  Likewise, with the current scheduling difficulties in college football, 8 conference games out of 12 would make scheduling somewhat less stressful.

It’s a big jump but it’s a bigger fall if the leadership of Big East football doesn’t realize what changes need to be made and can muster up the courage to make them.

Big East basketball is absolutely great.  When the No. 9 team in a conference can win the national championship no additional words are needed – and the leadership that has propelled Big East basketball to the very top has come from one very small place, Providence College.  Starting with the first commissioner, Dave Gavitt – a successful basketball coach at Providence, to Mike Tranghese, Gavitt’s Sports Information Director for the Friars – to current Commissioner John Marinatto.  He’s a graduate of, wait for it, Providence College. 

The Friars played football from 1921 to 1941 before shutting down the program during World War II.  It returned in 1967 as a club sport.  No football program yet three consecutive commissioners from the same small Catholic college.  Why then would it be a surprise that when expansion was contemplated Marinatto pushed for Villanova to ascend to BCS status.  It would be only the third Catholic university in the BCS ranks joining Boston College and Notre Dame – and ‘Nova, after all, is a charter member of the Big East.  All three schools are similar in size judged by enrollment – Boston College (9,099), Notre Dame (8,372) and Villanova (6,394) – but when it comes to college football fans Villanova, Pennsylvania, is not South Bend, Indiana or Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. 

While it might be time to consider the unthinkable, the realignment of the Big East into football-basketball schools and basketball only schools, it might also be time for the conference schools to consider a different point of view from their leadership.  In today’s high-powered world of television rights, skyrocketing coaches salaries and ever increasing oversight scrutiny, leadership through the maze that is BCS football takes a skilled and experienced hand.  Maybe someone who went to college football games on Saturday afternoons would be a start.


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