Many questions looming as Big East ponders expansion

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The Big East's football coaches are in favor of increasing the football membership to 12 schools, but are divided whether they want to add Villanova, according to a CBSSports.com survey.

CBSSports.com asked the coaches of the nine Big East football schools -- including TCU, which joins the Big East in 2012 -- three questions concerning league expansion. The coaches were assured their individual votes would remain confidential. Only one of the nine coaches declined to participate.

Here are the results from CBSSports.com's survey:

1. Do you favor Villanova as a football member?

Yes: 2½ votes

No: 2½ votes

No opinion: 3 votes

TCU coach Gary Patterson, who will be a Big East member in 2012, prefers a nine-member league. (US Presswire)  
TCU coach Gary Patterson, who will be a Big East member in 2012, prefers a nine-member league. (US Presswire)  
After TCU was announced as the league's ninth member in November, Villanova was thought to be a rubber stamp addition to fulfill the league's announcement of at least 10 members. Villanova, a Big East member in every sport but football, received an invitation last year to make the jump from FCS and join the Big East, but the Wildcats needed to determine whether they wanted to make the financial commitment to make the move.

Last month the school appeared ready to announce they would make the jump to the Big East only to have the Big East pull the invitation because of concerns about the Wildcats' stadium situation.

Villanova can't expand its on-campus stadium so the Wildcats are looking into playing off campus at PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union's soccer team. The stadium seats 18,500 and Big East sources said it's no secret the league does not want to play in a stadium that small. PPL Park would have to be expanded to satisfy the Big East -- and still that might not be enough.

One coach said he would not favor Villanova if it plays in an expanded soccer stadium but said he would favor the Wildcats if they played their home games at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles and Temple. However, that's not likely since the Owls have an exclusivity contract, blocking Villanova from playing there.

2. If Villanova becomes the 10th member, do you want to stay at 10 or go to 12 members? If 12, which two schools would you add?

Go to 12 schools: 5 votes

Stay at 10: 2 votes

No opinion: 1 vote

Of the five coaches wanting to get to 12 members, Central Florida received three votes, while East Carolina and Houston each received two votes and Southern Methodist one vote. One coach prefers 12 schools, but had no opinion what two schools to add.

The biggest challenge about adding all of the schools mentioned -- UCF, ECU, Houston and SMU -- is that they likely would require all sports membership, increasing the basketball membership to a seemingly unwieldy 19 teams. One league source, though, doesn't feel that's a problem. "You can have 50 teams in basketball [in the conference]," the source said. "It doesn't matter. That's why they have the NCAA tournament."

Big East commissioner John Marinatto also previously has said the league's basketball membership could grow as large as 20 schools.

3. If Villanova is not added, do you want to stay at nine members or still get to 10 schools? If 10, which school would you add?

Add a 10th member: five votes

Stay at nine: three votes

Of the five coaches voting to add another school, if Villanova doesn't gain football membership, three said it didn't matter what school was added, while UCF and Army each received one vote.

More on Big East

While the opinions of the football coaches shed some light on what the football member schools might be thinking, the coaches don't get to vote on league expansion outside of the CBSSports.com survey.

The 16 presidents of the all-sport members -- the eight football schools plus DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- will vote on expansion. A three-fourths majority (12 schools) is required to add a new member, Big East associate commissioner John Paquette said. TCU does not get a vote on league issues until joining the Big East next year.

Still, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he prefers a 10-team league instead of 12 teams, but ultimately would rather have a nine-team model.

"I like nine [members] for the simple reason you can play four non-conference games," Patterson said. "It helps you adjust your schedule and grow up. That's what we had in the Mountain West Conference and it worked well."

In the past four years, TCU played nine non-conference games against automatic qualifying BCS conference teams: Oregon State, Baylor, Clemson, Virginia, Stanford, Oklahoma and Texas. The Horned Frogs were an impressive 7-2 in those games, losing only to Texas in 2007 and Oklahoma in 2008. TCU also defeated Wisconsin in last season's Rose Bowl.

"It [an eight-game conference schedule] allows you to grow up and get your team ready to go and play a 'stretch' game outside the conference to help yourself on the national scene," Patterson said. "It's what happened to us in the Big 12. We'll have a hard time ever scheduling a team in the Big 12 because they already are going to play nine [league games] and they only have three non-conference games."

Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti feels strongly that the league needs to expand.

"I absolutely care [about expansion] as we face the future of our league and maximize our value," Pernetti said. "It's not a question of what we need to do: We need to expand in football. I'm very much a proponent of being aggressive on that front. That affects so many leagues out there."

A former executive vice president of content for CBS College Sports Network, Pernetti favors a 12-team Big East.

"I think that gives you what has been illustrated by other leagues," Pernetti said. "That gives you the amount of football inventory that gives you a variety of different things. We have good football in the Big East. The challenge we have is the amount of controllable football inventory.

"We have the greatest basketball [conference] in America, but at the same time we need to concentrate on the expansion on the football side. Within the inventory you could acquire by going to 12, it has to be the right additions. With that amount of inventory, you buy yourself a lot of flexibility."

Expansion will be a hot topic when the league's athletic directors, football and basketball coaches meet for three days in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., starting Monday. The questions are endless: does the league stay at nine schools or expand to 10 or 12? If the league expands, which schools does it add? It really depends on whom you ask.

The only certainty about the league's expansion appears to be its uncertainty, which was summed up by one football coach.

"It hurts my head even thinking about it," he said.

CBSSports.com Senior Writer Dennis Dodd contributed to this report.

For more from Brett McMurphy, check him out on Twitter: @McMurphyCBS

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