Big East Expansion: Why Adding UCF Makes More Sense Than Upgrading Villanova

Jeff Leadbeater@reevesarmyocContributor INovember 30, 2010

Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF's on-campus football field, preparing for its first game in 2007.
Bright House Networks Stadium, UCF's on-campus football field, preparing for its first game in 2007.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

With the recent announcement of TCU's move to the Big East Conference in all sports effective in 2012, rumors are flying about the addition of a 10th FBS football team to the league.

It would seem that the conference's preferred course of action is forcing Villanova to move up from the Championship Subdivision.

According to other reports, the Big East's other option is in Conference USA and the frontrunner in that speculation is the University of Central Florida.

There are plenty of reasons why UCF would make far more sense as an addition to the Big East than forcing Villanova to the Bowl Subdivision.

First, look at the numbers.

UCF has been rapidly growing. With over 56,000 students as of the Fall 2010 academic year, it is now the largest university in Florida and the second-largest in the United States, behind Arizona State.

Its on-campus stadium, Bright House Networks Stadium, holds 45,000 fans, and the team has averaged over 40,000 per home game in the 2010 season.

Villanova currently has less than 10,000 students. That's not a terrible obstacle; Rice, a member of C-USA, has fewer than 5,000.

The real obstacle is the 12,500-seat Villanova Stadium. It would be smaller than any other venue in the Bowl Subdivision. The current smallest stadium in the FBS is the Kibbie Dome, home of Idaho, at 16,000. The Kibbie Dome currently is the only FBS football stadium that seats fewer than 20,000.

Villanova is struggling to fill their stadium as it is. Remove their home opener (which they didn't sell out at 12,111), and they averaged about 7,500 per game in 2010.

That's the best the defending FCS National Champions can do? How do you expect them to support having to fly to either TCU or USF every year?

The potential revenue streams of the Philadelphia market are overrated. If they aren't bothering to go to the games, they probably won't bother watching on TV, either.

If Villanova isn't going to be any good in the Bowl Subdivision, and doesn't really have any seats to sell, how are they going to be of any use to the Big East?

UCF is already prepared to be a cash cow for the Big East with its own stadium providing income. That's something the Big East's current newest team, USF, doesn't have—they have to rent Raymond James Stadium.

Speaking of the Bulls, UCF could form a rivalry with USF. With UCF, you have a natural geographic rival for South Florida, which means one less flight for USF.

Of course, try telling that to USF.

With a 4-0 record over UCF, they have shown reluctance at renewing their rivalry with the Knights, claiming to desire bigger and better things in facing the "Big Three" of the state: Florida, FSU and Miami.

Some claim it was really C-USA that put the kibosh on future meetings between UCF and USF. Obviously, if UCF joins the Big East, that wouldn't be a problem anymore.

The reality is, USF isn't going to matter on the national stage until they can do better than "T-3rd" in their own conference. For all the things USF claims makes them better than UCF, USF hasn't done one very important thing that UCF has done—win a conference title.

UCF and USF belong in a rivalry, as a natural extension of the geographical rivalry known as "The War on I-4".

This is the rivalry that literally made the Arena Football League, with the Orlando Predators and the Tampa Bay Storm becoming their model franchises.

A UCF-USF rivalry would provide an unparalleled level of intra-conference intrigue and interest for the Big East. The equivalent of Auburn/Alabama in the SEC, VT/Maryland for the ACC, Michigan/Michigan St. for the Big Ten, or any of the pairings in the Pac-10.

No other pairing in the Big East can match that for football at the moment.

Third, UCF as it stands right now is capable of being a viable competitor in the conference, not just a cupcake.

UCF won the Conference USA title in 2007—check back Saturday for a possible second.

UCF lost their most recent match with USF in 2008, but they lost in overtime.

UCF also has a decent record of strong performances against BCS competition, including wins against Alabama (2000) and NC State (2007), coupled with two very close matches this year against NC State and Kansas State.

As for Villanova—well, let's be honest—how long will it be before they become a serious contender in the conference, if ever?

This year, UCF is completing its first set of consecutive winning seasons since joining Conference USA. With true freshman Jeff Godfrey turning heads at quarterback, UCF has a true shot at being a noticeable force for the next several years.

In 2012, when the Big East expands, Godfrey will be either a true junior or a redshirt sophomore, depending on if he remains healthy in 2011.

With more discipline in the defense, and improvements at special teams, UCF can become a worthy competitor, and draw a snowball effect of improved recruiting bringing even better talent in the future.

Finally, look at the ancillary benefits of adding an 18th team in all sports.

Obviously, upgrading Villanova would make this unnecessary since they are already a conference member for all other sports. Not only that, they are not a lightweight when it comes to the Big East's bread-and-butter sport, basketball, making the Final Four as recently as 2009.

The non-football members of the Big East do not want to add a team that would not benefit the conference as far as basketball is concerned.

That would not be a problem for UCF.

The Knights have been working on their basketball programs for some time. The men's basketball team had shown steady growth under head coach Kirk Speraw, leading to the new UCF Arena, which holds just about 10,000 for basketball.

Having hit a stalemate in recent years, he was replaced by Donnie Jones prior to the 2010-11 season.

The Knights are currently 5-0, and have already beaten USF.

There is a lot of buzz about UCF basketball right now with junior guard A.J. Rompza and, of course, sophomore guard Marcus Jordan.

Yes, the son of you-know-who.

UCF is also fairly formidable in baseball and volleyball, and downright historic in soccer. Their women's soccer program produced FIFA 100 honoree and U.S. women's national team legend Michelle Akers, and both men's and women's teams regularly challenging nationally.

They could be an enormous addition to the Big East in all sports.

Overall, the choice is very clear.

Although upgrading Villanova to FBS would be simple, it would not be nearly as lucrative for either the Big East or Villanova as some think it could be. Adding UCF in all sports instead will bring an eager and ready competitor to the Big East, and be far more lucrative for the conference and the school in the long run.


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