Note: The Smoking Musket is committed to bringing you different viewpoints from across the college sports landscape. Last week, it was our interview with recruiting reporter Laura McKeeman of Fox Sports. Today, it's the proprietor of VUHoops.com on the future of Villanova football and the Big East conference. Look forward to many more of these types of interviews in the future.
One of the biggest looming questions around the Big East right now is the pending decision of Villanova of whether or not to make the jump up to FBS from FCS. This, of course, comes right as Villanova has just delayed their decision because of facility concerns. We thought it would be a good idea to probe the mind of the Villanova blogger @BrianIsAwesome from VUHoops.com who's been covering the developing story for them.
TSM: Let's get the big one out of the way: Facilities and funding for upgrades. Do you think the local MLS stadium is a viable option for the interim? Is it even going to be available? Is Lincoln Financial Field an option (short or long term)? Is the long term plan for a dedicated stadium for Villanova or major upgrades to the existing one? Are there big money donors on board with making the jump?
Brian: I think that the MLS stadium is the best option for Villanova at this point. It is brand new, has great sight lines, comfortable seats, luxury boxes, plenty of concessions, and it is expandable (though, that can only happen with the MLS team's cooperation). The Philadelphia Union have been looking for non-soccer events to hold at their stadium to generate additional revenue, and that will include Rugby Sevens and Lacrosse games. They are certainly open to Villanova football as well.
As for Big Money donors: I can't speak with too much certainty about the amounts and identities of donors for this move. From what I have been told, however, there has been significant donor interest in the football move and I believe that there are sufficient funds available to the school to build a first-class training facility and pay the other costs of upgrading at this point.TSM: Do you have a feel for the present coaching staff's preference one way or another? One would think it would certainly help recruiting, but are they satisfied to compete on the current FCS level?
Brian: I can't speak from all of the coaches. Most football coaches are at least somewhat ambitious however. I can't speak for Head Coach Andy Talley, but I do believe that he has wanted to coach at the FBS level, but also has never been willing to leave Villanova unless he felt he was going to a situation where he could be very successful. In the 90s, his name was involved with coaching searches at a number of FBS schools, including New Mexico and Rutgers. Now he's probably closer to Joe Paterno territory than to being a hot young commodity when jobs open up.
I think Talley always privately supported the idea of moving Villanova back to FBS, and recent comments lead me to believe that he is absolutely in favor of upgrading the program right now.
As far as I know, the athletics department wants Talley to stay on and guide the program through the transition, and he is interested in doing that.
TSM: When/if the move is made, would you expect any large scale changes on the coaching staff?
Brian: If "large scale" refers primarily to the head coach and coordinators, I don't think so. Andy Talley is the CEO of Villanova's football team, and those decisions currently fall to him (and he has done pretty well over the years with that power). I don't see that changing with an upgrade. My assumption is that Talley would keep most of his staff in place.
TSM: I know we discussed this the last time, but for those who may have missed it, do you think a pro town like Philly will support 'Nova football better than the support given Temple?
Brian: Splitting football and basketball into separate conferences is rarely a winning formula. Combine that with Temple's level of success at football (rarely winning in the Big East and making one bowl appearance since 1979 (and only their third ever!) is just not a great formula to attract fans in Philadelphia.
Even the Phillies had mediocre attendance in the years where the program struggled, but now that they are a winner, the stadium is regularly sold out. Fans in Philadelphia (and most cities) don't want to spend their money to go out and watch the home team lose.
If Villanova football can put a winning product on the field, fans will support them.
TSM: What's your feel for the typical 'Nova fan/alum's opinion? Is it a general concensus or is there a definite difference of opinions?
Brian: There is definitely a difference of opinions -- even among the reasons why fans support the move, or not. Overall, however, I think the mood is generally in favor of Big East football, and perhaps overwhelmingly-so among the younger alumni and students.
TSM: Finally, what's your gut opinion on Villanova pulling the trigger? Do they do it? If so, in what time frame do they make the jump (not the decision, but the actual playing of FBS level games)?
Brian: From what I heard, it seemed like the lean was in favor of making the move at the beginning of this week and there were only a few things that could have derailed that. I've said it a ton of times, that at this point nothing will really surprise me, but my gut tells me this thing will go forward.
This Fall (regardless of the decision), the team will open against an FBS opponent (Temple) and then play a full FCS schedule in the CAA conference. In 2012, the transition would begin, and they would add FBS level competition to the schedule alongside a ramping-up of scholarships -- still playing maybe three or four FCS opponents. The 2013 season would be a full FBS schedule for Villanova, played as an independent (and without being postseason eligible). In 2014, Villanova would be able to qualify as a full member of the Bowl Subdivision and would hopefully play a full Big East conference schedule.
Thanks again Brian! It was a pleasure, as always. See his and other coverage of Villanova sports over at VUHoops.com
UPDATE: As mentioned above, Villanova has delayed their official vote scheduled for Tuesday this week. Brian Bennett explains the details:
According to the story, at least some conference members are concerned over Villanova's stadium issues. The program has planned to use PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union soccer team, which currently holds only 18,500. The stadium could be expanded to about 30,000 but would still be the smallest in the Big East.
All indications were that the Wildcats were ready to vote yes on the move up from the FCS level. It looks now like Villanova will have to either come up with a new stadium plan or convince doubtful Big East members that a 30,000-seat park makes sense. The school's options for a home stadium appear limited, however.