The TCU Horned Frogs are soon to be members of the Big East. There was a concentrated measure of joy arising from the Big East fans and institutions, and there was just as mirth had at the expense of Boise State for having their bold decision to strike out from the WAC to join the Mountain West. Only have the Mountain West become the WAC, with a different name. Maybe that last part was just me, regardless all of that was well and good, but it is time for the Big East to think about the next move for the conference.
As is there are two real options, and several schools who want to be options. More and more schools are popping up and falling into the secondary category. UMass is reported to have propositioned the Big East only to be rebuked like the distant cousin of a dead Roman Emporer making a claim to the throne only to wind up dead on the pike of a Praetorian Guard such a sad, sad story, but with less blood, which makes it a happy story I guess. Anyway the two legitimate options to add to the Football side are Villanova and Central Florida. Adding Villanova honors the history and tradition of the Big East. Adding Central Florida will help to ensure the continuing viability of the conference in Football, and by extension, in the rapidly changing world of inter-collegiate athletics as a whole.
From my perspectives the next step is a simple one. The biggest reason for that is that being a UC fan I am a new comer to the Big East and while I have a deep reverence and respect for the history and pedigree of this league and it's evolution from a Basketball only conference in the late 70's into a Football conference in the early 90's. While I respect the tradition, I am not bound to it. The same can not be said for the decision makers in the conference who have long been bound to the notion that the conference and it's future should be placed at the alter of the past. That thinking led the Big East to reject Penn State's application for admission in 1985 which in retrospect was a mistake and one of the great "What If's" in Big East history.
Villanova has a standing offer to join the Big East in Football, as do all Big East members that play Football at the 1-AA level. That list right now is Villanova and Georgetown. Villanova has had some success at the lower level since bringing the program back from a five year hiatus in 1985. They have made the 1-AA playoffs 8 times since 1985, winning it last year against Montana.
All of which is good, but it takes a great deal more than on field success to make a successful jump from the 1-AA level to a major conference. The last school to make the jump directly from the 1-AA level to a BCS conference was UConn and the way they did it was with a massive outlay of money. Connecticut had the benefit of a large enrollment, and corresponding group of alumni, a well heeled donor base and an athletic department that was cash rich because of the wild success of the Men's and Women's basketball teams. All of which contributed to a smooth transition and made the upgrading of facilities much, much smoother than it normally would be.
Villanova has none of those advantages. They are a small enrollment, religiously affiliated, school which doesn't have the benefit of a large alumni and donor base. They are also without the benefit of a large endowment and they don't have an athletic department that could really be described as cash rich. On top of all that their facilities while adequate, would have to be scrapped for the most part. Villanova Stadium only seats 12,000 people, below the NCAA mandated 15,000 for 1-A institutions. So Villanova would have to build a new stadium, or move games off campus. All of the venues in Philadelphia that can handle Division 1 Football are spoken for. Temple plays a Lincoln Financial Field, and Penn occupies Franklin Field which means the most likely destination for Villanova Football is PPL Park in Chester half an hour away from campus. In addition to that would be a large scaling up of facilities which would cost several million dollars in infrastructure alone, not to mention increased costs upgrading the womens programs to comply with Title IX. Villanova would have to put in millions upon millions of dollars to upgrade facilities to pave the way for the move. Once the move happens Villanova would most likely have to plod along for years to reach relevancy at this level of Football. In short I have a lot of concerns about Villanova's ability to handle this correctly, and even if they do it correctly, whats the best case scenario? A better Temple? The Big East tried division 1 Football in Philadelphia for a decade. It didn't work out, why the rush to repeat the same mistake?
On the other hand is Central Florida a school with a massive enrollment, currently 2nd in the country, in Orlando a top 20 media market. Unlike Villanova they don't have to upgrade anything becuase they already compete at the division 1 level in all sports. They have spent millions upon millions to upgrade the academic side of their resume.
From a facilities perspective there is almost nothing they have to do. In the past decade they have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading their facilities including a new stadium, basketball arena and Knights Plaza an athletic village to house the Olympic sports.
Everyone knows that the things that are driving the current round of conference realignment domino's are Football and Television markets. In both cases Central Florida is much more equipped to bring results to the table right now than Villanova for one main reason. All of the obstacles that currently stand in the way of Villanova upgrading their program to this level of Football have already been cleared by Central Florida. In summation Villanova is a nod to the past and tradition, UCF is planning for the future. Honoring the past and the traditions of this league is a wonderful thing, but there is a time and a place to do that. This is not it. It is time for the Providence Mafia in the league office to think with their heads and not with their hearts for a change.