Villanova considering Big East invitation

Updated: September 10, 2010, 4:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PHILADELPHIA -- Villanova is studying a proposal to join the Big East Conference in football.

If the school makes the move, there were would be phase-in period for the Wildcats and a mandatory two-year provisional period, leaving 2014 or 2015 as a possible rookie year.

Villanova currently plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, where it is ranked second in the nation. The Wildcats won the national title a year ago playing in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Athletic director Vince Nicastro said Big East commissioner John Marinatto approached school officials shortly before Labor Day and expressed interest in expansion. There was no formal offer. Instead, it's more of a mutual interest courtship.

In a letter to alumni, Villanova president Peter Donohue wrote: "This is a complicated issue with numerous, multi-dimensional factors that come into play, and it is important that we investigate scenarios related to making -- or not making -- such a move."

The Big East has eight members for football. Villanova is a member of the conference in other sports, including men's and women's basketball. A ninth member would allow the Big East to play eight conference games -- four home and four on the road. Right now, teams alternate playing more home than road conference games each year.

The Big East declined to comment. Sources told the Daily News and ESPN.com that the Big East would like an answer from Villanova by the end of the year.

A source told ESPN's Joe Schad that, in his opinion, there was a 60 percent chance Villanova would join as a full member by 2014.

Villanova has been part of the Big East basketball conference since 1980.

Nicastro said there is no official timetable for a decision.

"I think that will become clearer over the next several weeks," he said.

The Wildcats have played at the Football Championship Subdivision level since 1985 and rejected an earlier offer to join the Big East in 1997. Connecticut accepted an invitation that season to start the process to move up to what was known as Division I-A.

"The reasoning then I think was financial and stadium issues, and I don't know if there's a difference now," Nicastro said. "I do think the changing landscape that we've all witnessed is certainly a factor that has accelerated our fact-finding on this."

When the Big Ten announced in December it was considering expansion, it made sense that the conference might target Big East schools as new members. Instead, the conference started its 20th football season with its membership intact.

The Big East hasn't had a footprint in Philadelphia since it booted Temple in 2001 (the Owls stayed until the 2004 season). The Owls were evicted for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team.

The Wildcats' path to the Big East is loaded with obstacles.

They play in the 12,000-seat Villanova Stadium -- a capacity below the NCAA's mandate of a 15,000 per-home-game average to stay an FBS program. Temple shares Lincoln Financial Field with the Philadelphia Eagles and Penn plays at Franklin Field, leaving a new Major League Soccer stadium in Chester, Pa., as a potential candidate.

"There are many dimensions to this that aren't so obvious," Nicastro said. "I'm not sure that any one is more important than the next."

Villanova also will need another 22 football scholarships and upgraded facilities. Nicastro said the program would comply with the Title IX standards in women's sports that would be required with the additional football scholarships.

"I see it as being a benefit toward the women's programs as it's being contemplated now," he said.

Nicastro said football coach Andy Talley and his staff have been directed not to commit to any jump in membership when talking with recruits.

Information from ESPN.com Big East blogger Brian Bennett and The Associated Press is included in this report.