Why did Villanova's dance with Big East football take a tumble?

Posted: April 12, 2011

Mark down April 10 as the day Villanova's dance with Big East football crossed the divide from long-awaited decision to fiasco.

Villanova is finally ready to pull the trigger and make the move up, obviously believing the finances line up. So what happens? Several Big East football members, Villanova's brethren for other sports, have cold feet. A conference call Sunday among the existing conference football members stopped the process in its tracks.

So what was the Big East doing last September, when it informally invited Villanova to make the move? Why walk Villanova to the door if all the football members weren't gathered in the vestibule ready to open it? Did Big East members really believe Villanova would build an on-campus football palace? Was the fall so pathetic for Big East football that members had to reevaluate everything?

If Villanova had done something wrong, we'd love to point it out. Yes, the school took a longer time to decide than the league would have liked. But real due diligence on a decision as big as this one is worthwhile. The Big East went to Villanova, not vice versa.

Supposedly, Rutgers and Pittsburgh are the schools throwing up roadblocks, wanting to know if taking a team that plays in a 18,500-seat soccer stadium, PPL Park, even with the potential for expansion, really helps the league after a fall in which the Big East took major hits for not being BCS bowl-worthy with no ranked teams. Of course, it's a heck of a coincidence that one of the two schools voicing objections is closest to Villanova geographically and the other complainant shares a state with 'Nova.

Who votes on membership issues such as this one? We have it on good authority that it wouldn't just be the football schools, that it would be all members, although Villanova, a member for all other sports, wouldn't vote on its own membership. To pass, 75 percent of the members would have to vote yes. However, apparently the only way the move will be brought to the full membership is if the football members want it done.

How many football members? That's the million-dollar question. Could the Big East live with two dissenting members and everyone else going along? Maybe. Texas Christian, invited in last fall, doesn't have a vote yet, leaving eight voting members. It's hard to believe a vote would be taken if more than two object. Expect this to get resolved in the next month.

Nobody is blasting public salvos about this. It doesn't do Villanova or the Big East office any good. Both parties issued innocuous statements Monday. Here's the one from Big East commissioner John Marinatto: "The Big East Conference and Villanova University have worked closely with each other over the past several months regarding potential football membership.  We will continue with our due-diligence process and work with Villanova to continue to share relevant information and materials.  The Big East Conference obviously very much values its long-standing relationship with Villanova and we are committed to continuing to work with them on this matter in an open and forthright manner. Until there is additional information to report, the conference plans no further comment."

Just one big happy family, no dysfunction at all. If Villanova really wanted to play hardball, could the school announce it had decided to upgrade to I-A football, and, as a Big East member in good standing, it intends to play in the league? Could that keep some lawyers busy for a while?

More realistically, would it make sense for Villanova's board of trustees to go ahead and vote its approval Tuesday, to get it on the record that the school is ready to move?

Nobody at Villanova is coming to the phone, but behind closed doors, the school has every right to be angry. Three decades in the league and a litany of achievements gets them this treatment?

After months of study, surveys, and presentations to internal constituents, Villanova probably has to take the show on the road, convincing Big East fence-sitters of the merits of its case. Stay tuned.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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