ON A CONFERENCE call yesterday among the 14 Big East athletic directors, Villanova's Vince Nicastro, well-placed sources said, reiterated the university's position that when it comes to expansion, the conference needs to be cognizant of the marketplaces it's already in, as well as those it's considering entering.

The message is clear: Philadelphia already has a Big East presence. It just doesn't have one in football, at least not since Temple was asked to leave in 2004.

The Owls, of course, are now being mentioned as a potential all-sports member. Villanova, which has been a part of the Big East for most other sports for the last 3 decades, was set to vote last April to move up from the FCS level and join for football, too. That vote was tabled, in large part because of concerns raised to the Big East by Pittsburgh, which ultimately decided last month to leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with Syracuse.

No one should be surprised Villanova is trying to protect its territory. And there's nothing wrong with that. If the situations were reversed, Temple would do the same.

With TCU's added defection to the Big 12 this week before ever playing a Big East game, the conference has been left with six football schools and eight for basketball. It expressed the desire this week for 12 teams for football, which would mean bringing in four for that sport only and adding two others for everything, including football. Maybe there's room for both local schools, but the situation from within is so fractured, it's hard to gauge.

Temple's biggest advantage over Villanova is that the Owls, who now play in the Mid-American Conference, can provide immediate FBS help. The Wildcats would need at least 2 or 3 years to make the full transition to that level. Yet most of the changes being discussed likely wouldn't go into effect until 2014 anyway.

Villanova has shown it can attract close to 20,000 people to South Philly for basketball a handful of times each winter. Whether that's any factor in all this, or how much, is conjecture. This is, first and foremost, about football. Still, the basketball votes do happen to outnumber the football bloc.

This much also seems to be apparent: The rules have changed, and sometimes fair has little to do with them.