University considers Big East invitation



Nate McGann

As the University continues to identify areas in need of improvement to further its standing in the national landscape, it looks like the football program may play a role.

In an e-mail to faculty, staff and students on Friday, University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., officially announced that the football program has been invited to join the Big East conference as its ninth member, a move that would mark the team’s return to the FBS, formerly known as Division I-A.

“The landscape of college athletics continues to face dramatic changes,” Donohue wrote in the e-mail. “The Big East officially informed us that its football schools were interested in adding Villanova as a football member of the conference. This would represent a significant change for the University and our Athletic Department.”

Since the program’s resurrection in 1985, it has competed at the FCS level as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association with great success, culminating in last season’s national championship win. 

But with the ever-changing dynamics of college football, the Big East has decided it would be beneficial for Villanova to join. 

The University has begun an evaluation process to determine what is best for the welfare of the school.

The evaluation process is nothing short of difficult since the majority of the factors involved are highly speculative, according to Athletic Director Vince Nicastro.

“It is multidimensional in every way,” Nicastro said. “It’s really complex. You have quantitative decisions like the financial components that are actually relatively easy to identify and come to grips with, but then you have a whole host of other qualitative dimensions. Will people come to support us? How will the reputation of the school be affected? How does it line up with the strategic plan moving forward?”

Hurdles for making the jump to the highest level of college football include adding 44 additional scholarships, 22 for football and the additional 22 to adhere to Title IX regulations; finding a proper facility large enough to accommodate at least 15,000 fans; and meeting the remaining standards issued by the NCAA. Supporters of the move continue to argue that the benefits of joining the FBS greatly outweigh the potential costs. The move would increase Villanova’s chances of finding conference stability, bring national attention on an entirely greater scale and ultimately keep the basketball program’s affiliation with the Big East in the event the football schools decided to split.

“I think with any of those qualitative issues you have to make some assumptions,” Nicastro said. “Like with any decision where you don’t have all the facts at your disposal, you will have to make some assumptions. That’s what makes the decision so difficult.”

Nicastro noted that despite the finances being the easiest hurdle to identify, the nature of college football will make it difficult for Villanova to actually profit from its investment in a NBS program.

“It’s still too early to figure the return on revenue,” Nicastro said. “It’s an ultra competitive environment at that level, and if you’re going to do it you better account for all the basics plus all those other infrastructure items that you have to have to be relatively competitive at that level of football. If you look at the data, there are only a handful of schools that are making money from college football.”

While Nicastro said his role is to present all the facts to the Board, it is the Board of Trustees’ vote that determines whether or not Villanova football takes the ultimate gamble.

When it comes to a decision, money will likely be the key factor in determining the future of the program, according to Nicastro.

“Even if you are successful, the cost of doing business at that level is pretty substantial,” he said. “And you may not be profitable. I do think the financial component is going to be one of the more significant pieces to the puzzle.”

Nicastro confirmed reports that Villanova had spoken to PPL Park. The Athletic Department has actually been in contact with the home of the Philadelphia Union since the beginning of the year as it hopes to bring both Villanova soccer and lacrosse to the new facility. 

Nicastro points that out because the school has already started a relationship with the Chester stadium, it would be easiest to host football games there.

“We’ve started to get into more thorough identification of playing off-campus because our facility doesn’t meet the attendance requirements,” he said. “So I think as we move forward in the next couple of months we’ll get engaged in more substantive discussions with them and other venues as well. It’s going to pick up some steam now.”

Ultimately, the Board of Trustees will make their decision based solely on whether or not the jump to FBS would be best for the University as a whole, especially as it relates to the Campus Master Plan, not just for the betterment of the Athletic Department.

“What we have to look at is how does this decision fit into the university’s overall strategy moving forward,” Nicastro said. “If there’s not a comfort level that advances the University’s strategy moving forward, then my guess is it won’t happen.”

 Although no official timetable has been set, the school would like to come to a decision within the next few months, Nicastro said.

Since the announcement was made public, most of the attention has been focused on all the issues that will prevent the program from joining the Big East. 

But the buzz surrounding the impending decision has not been lost on the team, which is focusing only on winning football games.

“It’s been a distraction,” said Head Coach Andy Talley. “But it’s really being studied in depth. I think the decision will be at the highest level of the Board of Trustees.”

While the next few months will surely be filled with speculation and debate, the positive attention already resulting from the announcement is not lost on the University or the Athletic Department.

“I think one of the positive things that has come out of the process at this point is the perception that people have about our football program,” Nicastro said. “They have such a great deal of respect for our program, our head coach, the way our players conduct themselves, that even if we stay the course and keep playing at our current level of football, I think it’s really rewarding that there’s a lot of people out there, even at the highest level, that have a great respect for our football program.”