IF VILLANOVA WANTS its football program to move up from the Football Championship Subdivision level to join the Big East, all the university has to do is say yes.
The Daily News has learned that the Big East, one of six BCS conferences, has asked the Wildcats to make the jump.
And the school is officially considering the offer.
"The Big East very recently communicated its interest in adding Villanova as a football member," Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro told the Daily News yesterday. "As a result, we have decided to embark on an in-depth evaluation of this opportunity.
"As you might suspect, this is a complex issue, which entails many dimensions - both quantitative and qualitative. While we will move forward on this as quickly as possible, it is critical that all of those dimensions are vetted thoroughly prior to making any final decision."
The Big East, through a spokesperson, opted not to comment. But conference sources confirmed Nicastro's statement. Sources added that while no formal proposal has been made, if Villanova says yes, it will become a reality.
Villanova, which has informally looked at the many factors involved for about a year, will now officially start the due-diligence process.
No timetable for a decision has been set. Sources said that in a best-case scenario, the Big East would like to have an answer by the end of the year. The conference presidents hold their annual meeting in November, and aren't scheduled to meet again until March. The Big Ten has its meetings in December, at which point it is expected to discuss additional expansion. The names of Big East teams reportedly have come up in past talks about the Big Ten.
From Villanova's standpoint, the discussion next proceeds to a committee composed of Board of Trustees members. The committee will conduct a study and present a recommendation to that 32-member governing body before a vote is taken. Whether that can be done by the end of the year remains unclear.
The Big East would like, for practical purposes, to add a ninth football team. Having eight teams means each team must schedule five nonconference games, which isn't always easy. And four of them play only three conference home games each season. Again, not preferable.
Villanova, which won its first FCS national football championship last year and is ranked No. 2 this season, following last week's 31-24 loss to Temple, has been a Big East member for every other sport since 1980-81, the conference's second year of existence.
'Nova played football at what was then called the Division I-A level until 1980, before the program was disbanded. It resurfaced 5 years later at I-AA. In 1997, Villanova and Connecticut were given the opening to join the Big East for football. Villanova turned it down, but UConn accepted. The biggest considerations for declining at that time were the increased financial commitment and lack of an adequate on-campus facility.
Maybe the times have changed. College athletics certainly have changed, with many schools switching conferences.
"I do think people are much more aware, especially of what happened this summer, of the changing landscape of college athletics, than they were 15 years ago," Nicastro said. "They sort of knew it was out there, but now it's real. Conferences are realigning, schools that have traditionally been in conferences for many, many years have shifted affiliations. Things nobody thought would happen have happened.
"And the conventional wisdom is they'll continue to happen."
If Villanova elects to move up, it likely would play one more season at FCS, followed by a mandatory 2-year provisional period. So the Wildcats wouldn't gain full-time status in the larger Football Bowl Subdivision until 2014.
Where Villanova would play is an issue. Temple calls Lincoln Financial Field home. Sources said that makes it unlikely Villanova also would play there. Villanova Stadium has a capacity of 12,000, and the prospect of enlarging it apparently is not feasible. The NCAA requires 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home games for FBS schools. The attendance requirement must be met in 1 year over a 2-year period.
A viable venue is the new PPL Park in Chester, which holds 18,500 for Union soccer games. And there is room for a few thousand portable seats, as well as a potential for more permanent additions.
Other possibilities could include Franklin Field, and maybe even Citizens Bank Park (at least in November), now that Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field are being used for college football.
Temple was a football-only member of the Big East from 1991 until the conference ended the affiliation after the 2004 season.
The Owls, who are in the Atlantic 10 for all other sports, have played football in the Mid-American Conference since 2007.
To compete on a higher level, Villanova knows it would have to upgrade its infrastructure (weight rooms, practice fields, etc.). It also would need to fund 22 more football scholarships, and as many additional women's scholarships to comply with Title IX. The opportunities to increase revenue also would be much greater.
To help offset Villanova's transition costs, sources said one way the Big East could help is to schedule home games against the Wildcats that would include guaranteed payouts.
Villanova's basketball program is part of the equation regarding the football decision.
If the Big East football schools ever went their separate ways, as many have projected, that would leave the Wildcats in the non-football half of the 16-team conference. That means Villanova would lose basketball opponents Connecticut, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida.
With Villanova's renewed national basketball profile, it would be important for the school to protect its brand and the football program could help.
The process to decide whether to play big-time football figures to be complicated for Villanova. At the same time, it could be a simple yes or no. Either way, the ramifications could be profound. *