News broke today that Villanova is exploring an offer from the Big East to become a football member. As the AE resident football head, I have some concerns about this offer from Nova's perspective.
Let's get one thing out of the way before I move forward in this long post. I like Villanova...a lot. What's not to like? Catholic school, great academics, Jay Wright is a freaking stud, their players generally behave themselves and they are a fellow Big East conference member. If Marquette doesn't win the Big East, I'm rooting for Nova to claim the title. They can't help that they are Augustinian and not Jesuit, so I won't hold that against them.
That being said, let's look some of the factors to consider after the jump.
Title IX rules
Background: "Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. .1681 et seq.) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs receiving Federal financial assistance." The translation for college sports is that each school must have a reasonably equal opportunity for men's and women's sports. There are no hard and fast rules from what I can glean (I'm no lawyer), but scholarships and funding need to be roughly in line for each gender. More info can be found at this link.
Needed Action: Bumping up from the FCS to FBS will require Villanova to add 22 football scholarships to reach the FBS limit. This assumes they currently use the allotted 63 scholarships for FCS teams, which is a fair assumption considering their current competitiveness.
Impact: To meet Title IX requirements, Nova will have to balance the scales in funding and scholarships in some way. They have the option of dropping men's sports, dropping scholarships from existing men's sports or adding women's scholarships. Negatively impacting existing sports is never a good option and adding new women's sports will double their costs for scholarships alone. Their best bet is to shave scholarships from existing men's sports since the average women's sports loses about $500k annually. Sorry swimming and tennis
Background: Outside of scholarships, football is a money hungry sport. Here are some of the costs to consider. Some are investments and some are ongoing.
Football Stadium - Villanova Stadium seats only 12,000 people. Nova would have to add 3,000 seats, just to reach the FBS minimum of 15,000 seats. That is unlikely to appease Big East members, so a larger expansion or other options must be considered. A potential option is to play home games at Lincoln Financial Field. Scheduling conflicts with Temple and the Eagles could make that a tricky proposition. Franklin Field is another local choice, but they would have scheduling conflicts with Penn.
Overall Expenses - The median expense per athlete in the FCS is $24,000, but that skyrockets to $76,000 in the FBS. Overall the median FBS football program netted $2.5MM from football. Of schools that lost money, the median loss was $3MM. Obviously, this is a high risk, high reward situation with only 68 of 120 FBS football programs generating net revenue in 2009.
Coaching Salaries - The median coaching salaries plus admin costs are about $3.6MM in the FBS compared to about $700k in the FCS. Looks like someone will get a raise!
In the interest of transparency, most of the numbers I grabbed can be found here.
Long Term Viability - Is UConn a Good Role Model?
Background: Success begets financial stability, but the transition to FBS is a very difficult proposition. Connecticut is a recent successful example that Villanova should attempt to emulate. The Huskies bumped up their program and are now a consistent bowl contender. I'll compare their situation to Villanova on the following factors.
Funding - Villanova is a private institution and will depend on friends of the program and corporate sponsors to make a go of it. UConn had the best sugar daddy of them all, the state to help finance their move. That is a critical difference here.
Attendance - Consistent attendance is a must to have a viable program. Philadelphia is a saturated football market with the Eagles, Temple and Penn State in the general vicinity. Philly also has pro baseball, football and basketball, which will siphon off fans. Connecticut benefits from being the only show in the state, granted, Boston is close by. Additionally, UConn is a bit more relatable to the general fan because it is a public school. Will the common Philly fan warm to Villanova football and shell out $40 to see them play a FCS opponent?
Alumni base - a big alumni base is crucial to drive consistent attendance and athletic donations. Unfortunately, Villanova has only 105,000 active alumni worldwide. UConn has 103,000 alumni in Connecticut alone (I wasn't able to find the total number).
Scheduling - Villanova may find themselves in a scheduling pickle if they make the leap. They will need attractive opponents to fill the stadium, but it will be initially difficult for Villanova to schedule big name teams in a home-and-home situation. The most attractive opponents UConn has attracted to Storrs have been Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina. Not bad, but that's over the course of a decade. Additionally, Notre Dame refused to play in Storrs and will instead play UConn at Gillette Stadium. Nova will also need to schedule some easy wins, but the cost for "buy-games" is escalating, with even FCS demanding $350,000+. Wildcats fans should expect some puzzling road games in Murfreesboro (Middle Tennessee) and Jonesboro (Arkansas St) to make things easier on the budget. Nova will also have to accept some mercy killings at the hands of Penn St and Maryland as they transition.
Recruiting base - Nova sits in a decent recruiting base and they would have easy access to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia talent. This is certainly a big opportunity for the Wildcats, though the recruiting competition is stiff with Big East, Big Ten and ACC teams regularly recruiting that area. Villanova certainly sits in a better recruiting spot than UConn.
Conference Affiliation - The Big East has positives and negatives for football, but it is the ideal conference to make the leap into. First off, it has a BCS bid, creating additional revenue and giving Nova a shot at the national title, albeit, a small one. The league is also fairly weak and could allow for upward mobility. UConn has taken advantage of this weakness to build a consistent winner.
The Potential Payoff
The Good: Villanova wants to stabilize their place in college athletics. Admission to the Big East in football would bring more guaranteed money to the fold via the BCS payouts, elevate the prestige of Wildcat athletics and could provide a safe haven for all Wildcat sports going forward.
The Risks: The flip side is that the Big East far from a stable football conference. Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are still candidates for the Big Ten and potentially the ACC. If any combination of those teams would leave the fold, where would that leave Villanova? They would have a huge cost structure for football in place with no where to go.
I think Villanova will make the move since they don't want to sit back and wait for football schools to decide their fate. I will be rooting for them if they make the move, but I will also be concerned that football will become a financial albatross around their necks. Football is sexy, but is also damn risky, just ask any team in the Sun Belt or MAC...or...shudder...Temple.