Temple, Villanova on edge as Big East deliberates

Posted: October 14, 2011

If the Big East's current working expansion plan becomes its final plan - and the plan is "congealing" pretty fast, according to one league source - the chants from Temple's student section won't be pretty when Villanova visits the Liacouras Center for a hoops game in December.

According to several Big East sources, after another conference call Thursday, the league is moving closer to an expansion plan that has many, many moving parts, based on schools both coming and going. Right now the top working model includes adding Temple for football only, and no move-up to the Big East for Villanova football.

Big enough news on both fronts - and something for plenty of fans at both schools to be upset about.

According to a Big East source, Villanova hasn't tried to put up an "over our dead body" block on Temple for joining the league for all sports but made it known they'd prefer that Big East basketball not include two schools sharing the same market.

"It's about the strategy of expansion and how markets fit in," said a Villanova source.

So that's business. The Phillies wouldn't allow a Bensalem team in the National League East. The Union wouldn't want another MLS franchise in Glassboro. But wouldn't it be good for a large portion of the Philly hoops market to see the two most successful Big Five programs over the last three decades go head-to-head?

The Big East would be a better basketball league with Temple in it, period. And from the outside that looked important when the conference began hemorrhaging premier programs such as Syracuse and Pittsburgh. But from the inside it was always about markets and football.

Temple fans are flat-out ticked. They know their basketball team is in a league with far less TV exposure, that recruits have been lost as a result, that this was the shot to even the playing level with the Main Liners. Not that the entire city should share the Owls' outrage. Maybe St. Joseph's, La Salle, and the rest of the A-10 are dodging a bullet, keeping its league intact. Both programs stand to be seriously hurt if a Big East raid takes any combination of Temple, Xavier, and Dayton.

It was pointed out to me Thursday that Villanova only has one vote and doesn't have the rest of the league in its pocket.

Yes, and no. It's not like Villanova has other options if the Big East decides to take in Temple for all sports. However, a lot of Big East basketball schools have made money from 'Nova's NCAA appearances. Those same schools know Villanova wasn't treated all that well in the recent football debacle. So one voice can be influential. However, one Big East source said some other hoop schools were not entirely sold on bringing in a second Philly team for all sports in the first place, so Temple fans may want to spread their venom around a little bit.

It's possible that Villanova moving up in football could be revisited at some future date. "The football schools need help right now," said one Big East source. "If this is done in waves, it might be down the line," referring to a Villanova move-up. One opinion: It would have been insane for Villanova to want in right now without knowing about future dollar figures.

I was told Thursday the tentative Big East plan could be revisited if it turns out having Temple play basketball is a "linchpin" to the football plan coming together - for keeping Louisville and West Virginia from being poached by the Big Twelve, for instance. But the line in the sand seems to be drawn, and it seems to be an acceptable line to many Big East voting members.

Getting Navy and Air Force on board for football only remains the top priority, but Navy has continued to make it clear it wants to see the level of commitment before deciding whether to join.

A Big East source said the league's interest in Boise State seems to be increasing, but Boise presumably is in Navy's position: Tell them who is in first, really committed, and they'll think about it. So a big key remains the issue of raising exit fees and establishing TV rights, as other leagues have done. Conference USA schools such as Central Florida, East Carolina, Houston, and SMU are all on the board as possible all-sports targets as the league looks to go as high as 12 football schools and 20 basketball schools. Some schools have a better chance to join if the league moves west for football, if Boise State and Air Force sign on for football only.

What the league plans to do if Louisville and West Virginia bolt for the Big Twelve in the coming weeks is anybody's guess, so the whole circus may be far from over, or could even start over from the beginning. But Big East football schools not being considered by other leagues are in a precarious place and need to expand immediately to keep the league alive. The basketball schools are going along with that, believing they are stronger being part of a league with an automatic qualifier for BCS bowl games.

Who are the big winners from this grand compromise?

I haven't spotted any yet, outside of some Conference USA schools, which should tell you plenty. Congealing may be the perfect word for the whole thing.


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

 

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