The Villanova Wildcats football program is the defending Division 1 Football Champion. The Cats won the Football Championship Subdivision last December and captured the school’s first National Championship in football. Given the recent success of the program, and the questions that exist in terms of conference structure in collegiate athletics right now, there has been speculation from fans for months about the potential move for Villanova football from FCS to FBS football. However, recently the speculation rose to a new level, as Big East commissioner John Marinatto visited the Villanova campus before the Temple game to inform the school of the conference’s interest in adding Villanova as a football school. As of now, Villanova participates as a Big East school in all sports except football, as the program is in a different subdivision of football than the Big East.
Just today, Villanova President Father Donohue sent an email to all Villanova alumni informing them of the opportunity presented, and stated that the Board of Trustees was beginning a thorough analysis of the situation, and that a formal decision will not be made until this analysis is complete.
To Father Donohue, I’ll complete your decision making process in under 2,000 words:
The possible move of Villanova football from the FCS to the FBS is an idea that could be detrimental to the football program. Not only that, but the decision could have more far-reaching effects, such as to many other varsity sports that could be sized down or even removed due to budget and other constraints.
Lets focus on the adverse effects the move would have on the football program itself:
Villanova now is a great power in the FCS. The players, coaches, fans, and administration love where the program is right now and love the excitement it has brought to the university. The football program is also in the right spot in that it is extremely competitive in the division in which it plays, but isn’t so big that it draws attention away from the rest of the school.
Here are the problems, therefore, with the potential move:
1) Nova football does not have enough fans- I am a diehard Nova football fan (one of the few), and I can say with supreme confidence that the team does not and will not have enough fans to support the move to the FBS. Last year (when the team won the National Championship), Nova wasn’t in the top 20 for attendance averages for the FCS, and DIDN’T SELL OUT A HOME GAME. Many argue that the fans will follow when the team moves to the FBS. My question: Why? How? Why and how will more fans follow when they already aren’t supporting a championship caliber team. I don’t know of any person that says, “O, the team is losing about half its games now, and some by double digits, as opposed to last year when the team won 10 games in the regular season and won the National Championship? Where is the box office, I have to get in on this action!” That isn’t the way it works. College football hasn’t and won’t work in the city of Philadelphia. Temple was a member of the Big East conference for football from 1991-2004, but was forced out partially due to the fact that no fans came to the games. So will the fans really follow, especially when Nova won’t be nearly as competitive as it is now? Doubtful, and certainly not something at which to throw your blind hope.
2) Nova doesn’t have a facility that is FBS suitable- Villanova stadium, where the Wildcats play their home games, holds about 12,000 fans. FBS standards require at least 15,000 seats, and any FBS stadium with only 15,000 seats is a laughingstock. To resolve the seating problem, Villanova has a few options. The first option is to add seating to Villanova Stadium, most likely to complete the seating structure around the backs of the endzones. This would cause severe financial strain on the university and athletics department. Another option is to lease a larger stadium, such as Lincoln Financial Field, where Temple plays, PPL Park, where the Philadelphia Union (soccer) plays, or even Franklin Field, where the Penn Quakers play. The constant among these options is that they ALL COST MONEY. Any move to another location for 6 games a year will cost the university a lot of money that it isn’t spending now.
…which leads to the next issue.
3) Lack of endowments- Villanova is a small, private, Catholic institution. All the money for athletics comes from the athletic department and donations of wealthy alumni. At this point, most of those donations go to the thriving basketball program. Therefore, if Nova moved to the FBS, a lot more money would be needed to finance the transition itself, the needed improved facilities on campus, the scholarships, the increased marketing for the program, and many other factors. It takes a lot of money to finance all these prospects, and Nova simply doesn’t have it and can’t generate it. Think about it. How many small, private, Catholic football programs exist and thrive at the FBS level? I think of 2. Notre Dame, which is simply an outlier in the fact that their alumni support is unmatched by private schools in the country. Boston College, which has been an established football program for a long time. Boston College is the only comparable school to Villanova which has succeeded with a football program at the FBS level. However, there are problems with this comparison as well. BC has always had a larger endowment than Villanova, and the university and local areas support the program more so than Villanova. BC has a 44,000 seat stadium on campus (Alumni Stadium), a project which would NEVER pass in the Villanova-Radnor community. Therefore, there is only one example of a school comparable to Villanova that has succeeded at the FBS level, and this school has numerous advantages over Nova that allowed them to do so, not limited to the financial advantages.
4) Competition- All the above points are valid and are very important, but how about the fact that Villanova has to compete year in and year out at the FBS level in a BCS conference. Granted, Nova has been very impressive in the past 2 years. A 3 loss season 2 years ago (including a trip to the FCS quarterfinals), and a National Championship season last year. And believe me, I have loved every minute of it and think that (right now) Nova can compete with Big East teams. However, I did say that Nova could compete “right now.” How about next year, or the year after that? Nova’s roster is losing the following players for next season: Starting QB Chris Whitney, Starting WR, KR, Reigning FCS Championship MVP, and Walter Payton Award Nominee Matt Szczur (best player at Villanova since Brian Westbrook, if not of all time), the top 3 running backs on the team (Aaron Ball, Angelo Babbaro, Louis Adeyemi), 3 starting linebackers (Terence Thomas, Marquis Kirkland, Jacob Wade), and 3 defensive backs (Fred Maldonado, John Dempsey, Martel Moody). This is the year where the team is at its peak. The team came into its own last year by winning the National Championship, and is just as strong this season. But what about next season? Are there really players just as talented that are ready to fill the shoes of these graduating players as Nova is about to enter a BCS conference? Before the 2008 season, when the players that are leading the team now began to play well and led the team to the playoffs, Nova hadn’t made the FCS playoffs since 2002. 2002! In a 16 team playoff! In the FCS! And now people want this team to move up to a BCS conference for the remaining life of the program with all new players and an unclear direction. I must not have the intelligence to understand such a thought process.
5) Recruiting- Nova has thrived upon recruiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and other relatively local players that would have been sitting the bench for programs such as Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, etc. However, now that Nova is in the same league as these teams, and has to compete squarely with the teams, there is no way that Nova will succeed without completely changing its recruiting philosophy. And the next question is, will a stand up coach like Andy Talley be able to compete in the recruiting game at the FBS level while continuing his ethical practices that have endeared fans to both him and the football program? And if he fails, then what? Will the university be forced to fire the coach that built the program so that it could ascend to the FBS level in the first place?
6) Basketball won’t be affected!!!- Much of the speculation has been propelled by the basketball fans who care only about the basketball program and don’t care about the quality of other big-name sports at Villanova (namely football). They believe that the “landscape in college athletics is changing” (Man, if I had a nickel for every time I read or heard that). To those people, I need to ask why the basketball program will be so adversely affected if the football program moves to the FBS. The collegiate landscape at the present moment is not changing, and contrary to popular belief, I don’t see it changing any time soon. Which conference will steal all the Big East teams and dissolve the Big East? The Big Ten?? The conference added Nebraska, spent months designing a new conference alignment with the 2 divisions, and has now created the Big Ten football schedule for the next 4 years. The Pac-10?? The Pac 10 may not be done expansion, but will not reach 3,000 miles across the country to take multiple Big East schools. Colorado was about as far as they would go. The ACC?? Why, when the conference has the option to take multiple SEC schools, which are miles ahead of the Big East schools in the much more lucrative sport of college football. Therefore, I don’t see any power conference as a viable threat to take over the Big East football schools at this point.
AND EVEN IF FOR SOME REASON THAT DOES HAPPEN, WHO CARES!! Last I checked there were 8 schools in the Big East for basketball (half of the total conference) that don’t play football in the Big East. Notre Dame remains independent and shows no inclination to change anytime soon. Villanova, Georgetown, Depaul, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Marquette, and Providence either play at the FCS level or don’t have football programs. So tell me, even if the conference raid begins again and the Big East football schools are all shipped to different conferences, what is the problem with having an 8 team basketball-only conference? Villanova and Georgetown are 2 traditional powerhouses near the top of the college basketball spectrum right now, Marquette and Notre Dame are locks for the NCAA tournament nearly every season, and are very exciting teams, Seton Hall almost made it to the tournament last year, and St. Johns is on the way back up with Steve Lavin now at the helm. Providence and Depaul aren’t great teams, but Providence especially is always a solid program, and is one of the original Big East schools, back when it was a basketball only conference. Therefore, even if the absolute worst happens, and the Big East football conference ceases to be, Nova will be just fine (if not in a more stable spot) if the Big East football schools are haphazardly distributed to new conferences.
So, Father, here is why the program should not move up:
1) Not enough fans
2) Not a suitable facility
3) Lack of Endowments
6) Basketball will be just fine without the switch
If the program does switch, someone better have a darn convincing argument as to why.