Villanova-Big East expansion leaks begin to surface

So much for the gag order. Just remember that Villanova drew first blood. Now it's time to go on the offensive, with West Virginia sources and people in the league office apparently talking.

A source said it's unclear what Villanova can now do with only a few other options for a home stadium. Villanova will either have to convince skeptics its plan can work or find a new home.

Another piece says this kerfuffle is solely about the stadium issue, which should not detract from how pressing of a concern that remains.

"We're talking about a decision that is going to have ramifications for decades,'' a league source said. " 'We might' or 'We could' is not the same as 'We will.'''

Still, the issue is not completely dead, although it is squarely in Villanova's court now. That was thought to be the case all along until the stadium issue reared its head. And that was probably true. The Big East was more than willing to extend a formal invitation, provided Villanova was willing and had an acceptable plan in place.

"All along the [informal] invitation was contingent upon Villanova not only wanting to do this, but being able to do it to the league's standards,'' the league source said. "I think it's still a possibility, but there have to be some assurances made that [Villanova] is going to be up to it in every aspect, including the venue.''

If that account is correct, then there are two main issues at hand: is Villanova willing to commit to stadium expansion, and even then would a 30,000 seat venue be enough? The latter is sketchy. How do you think UConn feels about the fact that they had to spend a fortune getting up to par? Would they be happy with Villanova receiving special treatment? Villanova had their chance when UConn moved up. They've been on notice with this for months. Any possible stadium related issues should not have come as a surprise. As the article notes, the football teams have all the leverage here after adding TCU, and have no need to settle.

That's just one view. You wonder if West Virginia sources are still loyal to the league offices, and trying to play peacemaker by letting Villanova off lightly. Perhaps the gloves should come off considering how the non-football schools are drawing a line in the sand.

Instead, middle-of-the-road programs like Central Florida or Houston are alternatives that would bring existing infrastructure, coaching staff and football history many levels above that of Villanova.

However, the so-called "basketball schools" like Providence, Georgetown and St. John’s have no appetite to cut another far-flung school into college sports’ largest partnership.

This balancing act is being managed by commissioner John Marinatto. He persuaded everyone that adding TCU last fall was a home-run move, even if the Horned Frogs have never enjoyed sustained appeal in their own market of Dallas-Fort Worth, let alone the East. The second part of that plan was bringing Villanova aboard as a 10th football member, a decision that would clearly please PC and Marquette but apparently not Rutgers, Pittsburgh or some other football schools.

The football schools don't want to add a marginal member, which is a business decision. The basketball schools don't want to add a marginal member (and they're not necessarily wrong on that point), which is also a business decision. The best outcome for all then would be an amicable split across football lines, as the prospects of increased football television revenues create a clear line in the sand.

Expansion would probably force the seven non-football basketball members of the Big East — DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence, and St. John’s — to consider breaking off into their own conference. According to sources within the conference, however, that would be a last resort.

Even with learned resources at his disposal such as Tim Pernetti and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, does anyone honestly trust Big East commissioner John Marinatto as a capable and/or honest broker in any upcoming negotiations for broadcast rights? According to the Boston Globe, his charges are threatening to walk if Villanova falters and UCF, the presumed alternative, joins in their stead. Indeed, that may well be in protest of the numerous and considerable crimes of Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi against the written word, but that would hardly represent a genuine effort in good faith.

The smart play here is to sever. Maybe stay in a loose confederation for some non-revenue sports, guaranteeing that the non-football schools keep a seat at the table in the apocalyptic scenario of NCAA secession? Heeding to their undeserved cronyism would be a hard bargain indeed, but it may be a ransom worth paying if it would finally get the yoke of Providence off the backs of the Big East football schools one and for all.

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