Big East Media Days start today at 9 AM (Fans can follow live at BigEast.TV) from Rhode Island. After what was a shock at the clambake aka LOBSTERFEST (seriously, how do you run out of lobsters Marinatto?!), the main question on everyone's mind heading into tomorrow will be expansion. I'm not going to go into rumors (although the possibility of Kansas and Kansas State at the Pete would be unreal) but the Big East needs to make a big step in the right direction if they want to stay in the picture as one of college football's top conferences (pulling one of the last pieces out of the Mountain West with TCU coming next year will certainly help).
Paul Zeise of the Post Gazette is reporting that Pitt is leading the way in the "No to Nova" campaign. West Virginia, Rutgers, and Syracuse are also reportedly saying the same thing. Zeise believes that the Big East should go the Army/Navy route and invite the military academies.
I'm of the opinion that the Big East should not invite Villanova. I understand that they are a successful FCS program and all the other sports are in the conference and they say they can bring the Philly market to the Big East. I also understand that the basketball schools will be more likely to say yes, if they get a vote in this matter, than say inviting another school as a full member. None of that should matter.
When inviting a school, the conference needs to look at which schools are going to help raise the Big East's profile across the country right now and an FCS school, no matter how successful, will not do that. There really aren't any programs that would likely agree to become a member of the Big East that would raise the profile substantially, but there are some that would help (UCF, Navy, Army come to mind).
This move shouldn't be about appeasing the basketball schools. Even though the conference makes more money off of basketball, football has much more potential and will be the biggest bread winner for the conference once the new TV deal is in place. Plus, look at the main elite Big East basketball programs - Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Villanova, with Cincinnati, St. John's, and Rutgers on the way up. The majority are football schools.
The idea that a college program could deliver the Philadelphia market is also hard to believe. The only schools that could potentially lay claim to that are Penn State and Notre Dame and even then I would find it difficult to believe. Philadelphia is a pro-sports town and I can't see Philadelphians getting excited about Villanova football playing in a soccer stadium in Chester, a good 20 minutes from Center City (downtown to all you non-Philly people). It's the same situation when Rutgers was flirting with the Big Ten last season with the claim that they could deliver the New York City market - I just don't see it happening.
I've also read rumors that Pitt and other nearby Big East programs are afraid that Villanova would steal potential recruits away from these Big East schools. Is that true? Maybe, but from what I'm seeing, Todd Graham isn't really focusing on eastern PA and New Jersey and is staying local or going into Ohio for recruits. Graham is also focusing on the South (i.e. Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida). The best in-state prospects will most likely be headed for State College or Pittsburgh rather than Villanova. I just don't see any valid reason that Pitt is afraid of Villanova. If Pitt is saying no, then I would hope it is for better reasons other than they are afraid.
I'm not saying that Villanova isn't a good program. They won the FCS title in 2009 and they obviously know what they're doing on the gridiron. But if the Big East invites Villanova to FBS football and Villanova only*, they aren't putting the conference's best interests first and are simply trying to keep the basketball schools happy. College athletics is about football, and the Big East needs to get this move right the first time. Otherwise, the football schools may decide they've had enough and go off on their own.
John Marinatto is known for being quiet about any potential moves concerning the conference so I seriously doubt we will get any concrete answers to the expansion question other than that the conference will have invited the schools prior to starting negotiations for the new deal in September 2012.
*If Villanova were part of a combination of teams invited for football, then the initial view of the move would depend on who the other teams were.