MORGANTOWN - The issue of Villanova football and the Big East Conference is not dead, but it appears now to be hooked to a life-support system that could be unplugged at any moment.
When Villanova announced Monday that its Board of Trustees would not hold a scheduled vote on the matter at its Tuesday meeting, it was a clear signal that the school had received the message from the Big East that acceptance into the football side of the league was far from a done deal.
And the message appears to be quite simple: Find a more suitable place to play or the invitation is off.
"I think it was clear to everyone in the conference that at some point very soon Villanova was going to wind up hosting an important game late in the season,'' one league source said. "Imagine that a nationally ranked, perhaps unbeaten team plays Villanova on the road in November and the game is on national TV. And it's in an 18,000-seat soccer stadium.''
Big East officials won't comment on the matter and have instructed school representatives to refer all inquiries to the league. So no one is willing to speak on the record.
But two sources on Tuesday gave virtually the same account, which is that the stadium issue is the only reason the conference is reluctant to turn the informal invitation for Villanova to join that it made in September into a formal solicitation.
"From a football perspective, I don't think anyone doubts that if they commit the resources, that Villanova can't follow the Connecticut and South Florida models and move up quickly,'' one source said. "I don't think anyone is looking at Villanova and saying they can't do it on the field. But the stadium issue just won't go away.''
Villanova presently fields a football team in the FCS division and has fared very well of late. The Wildcats won the 2009 national championship and lost to the eventual national titlist in last year's semifinals.
But the school plays its games in a small on-campus stadium and its initial proposal for a larger venue to accommodate FBS games and crowds is 18,500-seat PPL Park, a soccer stadium 10 miles away in Chester, Pa. The school rightly notes that PPL Park is designed to be expanded to as much as 30,000 seats, but that would still be among the smallest in the country and the smallest of any school in a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
"You can say that the stadium can be expanded, but the fact of the matter is it's not their stadium,'' a source said. "There's a reason those soccer teams are building 20,000-seat stadiums. That's what they expect to be drawing for the next 10 or 20 years.''
PPL Park is operated by the Philadelphia Union, an MLS soccer club. Union CEO and managing partner Nick Sakiewicz told the Philadelphia Daily News that expansion has always been an option.
"We designed the stadium for expansion and it has been something that we have been discussing,'' Sakiewicz said. "Villanova could feasibly accelerate those plans as another tenant in the building.''
The fact that the stadium can be expanded and that the soccer club says it is an option, however, is apparently not enough for the Big East to pull the trigger and extend a formal invitation.