Villanova says Big East wants to add Wildcats' football program to the conference

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Villanova's national championship football program could be Big East bound.

The Wildcats would have all of their varsity sports programs under the Big East banner if they accept an invitation to join the conference. The Big East has informed the Wildcats that it wants to add them to the conference.

Villanova President Peter Donohue wrote a letter to Villanova alumni saying the university will evaluate the opportunity. There was no immediate comment from the Big East.

"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," Donohue wrote.

Donohue did not say when the program would make a decision, but it won't be until the board of trustees "conducts a careful and complete analysis" of all the factors. Among the decisions would include upgrading their football stadium or finding somewhere else to play.

Villanova won the FCS national championship last year and would move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Big East has eight teams and adding a ninth would lessen some of the scheduling issues that arise each season. The Wildcats currently play in the Colonial Athletic Association.

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

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.

Nicastro said there is no official timetable for a decision.

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

If they make 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.

The Wildcats have played at the second-tier 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.