It's no secret that the Big East has long wanted Villanova to upgrade its football program to FBS status and become the ninth football-playing member. That's always been the simplest solution since the school belongs to the Big East in other sports and brings in a big market with its Philadelphia home base.
Well, now it looks as if the school may be seriously considering the move. According to a story in the Philadelphia Daily News by Mike Kern, Villanova is "embarking on an in-depth evaluation" of a formal offer to join the league, its athletic director says. From the story:
From Villanova's standpoint, the discussion next proceeds to a committee composed of Board of Trustees members. The committee will conduct a study and present a recommendation to that 32-member governing body before a vote is taken. Whether that can be done by the end of the year remains unclear.
The Big East is not commenting officially, but league officials confirmed to ESPN.com that they have asked the Wildcats to make the jump and would prefer an answer by the end of the year. No other schools have been offered an invitation.
Villanova has basically had a standing invitation from the league but has never said yes. As I've written here many times, the school has some issues to overcome, mainly where it would play. Temple and the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles play in Lincoln Financial Field, which means that's probably not an option. The Wildcats play in a 12,000-seat stadium that's too small by NCAA FBS standards. The story says that expanding the on-campus stadium is not feasible and lists soccer stadium PPL Park (which holds 18,500), Franklin Field, and possibly even Citizens Bank Park as potential homes.
Adding the Wildcats solves a lot of headaches for the Big East. It could then have a ninth member so that teams would have balanced conference schedules and would need to find only four nonconference games per year instead of five. It would not have to bring in a new member and add to the already unwieldy 16-team basketball alignment. The Philly location gives Rutgers a natural rival and another footprint in the Northeast for the league.
But even if the school says yes, the earliest it could reach NCAA qualifying standards and join the league would be by 2014. Who knows if the Big East will still have the same members by then.
We know that the Wildcats can play. They won the FCS national title a year ago and nearly knocked off Temple for the second year in a row in Week 1. If they could make the transition to the FBS as smoothly as Connecticut did, that would strengthen the league as a whole. It's nowhere near the same level as adding an established program like Nebraska as the Big Ten did, but it makes the most sense for the Big East.
Now Villanova's leaders just have to decide if it makes sense for themselves.