As the latest round of college league realignment craziness hits locally, Temple must once again ask: Is there a good league out there for the Owls? That’s been a relevant question for decades, through all sorts of changing dynamics.
Never mind looking for a perfect league offering an abundance of athletic revenue. Temple just needs to find a place that makes sense as a home for all the sports offered on North Broad Street.
As three top American Athletic Conference teams (Cincinnati, Houston, Central Florida) prepare to leave for the Big 12, what is the right path for Temple? Or, more accurately, what is the least wrong path? As usual, the Owls are in a tough box, dreaming of a Power 5 future with no apparent reciprocal interest.
The AAC will (probably) be fine. The league will pick up the best available options. (Hello, Marshall!) For Temple, however, membership in the league might seem more and more pointless. When Oklahoma and Texas announced they were bolting the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, I pointed out the only positive for the Owls: that the Big 12 poaching AAC teams gets Temple closer to an expanded football playoff, which is a way to get this city excited about Temple football. (Did anyone really care that Cincinnati or UCF was coming to town?)
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However, with the SEC flexing its considerable muscles, other leagues are hinting at a slowdown on getting to the bigger playoff, wanting to make sure it doesn’t turn into the SEC Invitational. Also, this isn’t 2015 or ‘16 — Temple isn’t close right now to being a playoff contender, whatever the AAC alignment.
So what are the options? For basketball, evidence still suggests the Atlantic 10 is the best home for men’s hoops. That’s where the Owls had their success. That’s where they could still find plenty of natural rivals.
That solution just creates a bigger problem for Temple football. That’s why Temple left the A-10 in the first place. Suggesting the Owls could go back to the Mid-American or even take the Connecticut route and try to play independent football again … yeah, no. Been there, foundered at that.
“CAN NOT go back to the MAC or indy,” said one former Temple administrator, adding that if he was given only three options, “indy, MAC or drop football, drop football [is] the way to go.”
Don’t get this administrator (who was never Temple’s AD) wrong. He was not saying to drop football, just pointing out that the other options are worse. The dream option, of course, is to get to the Power 5, to earn a place among the schools actually making money at the college sports game.
To be clear: Over the last 30 years, Temple did not really choose the wrong league. The Owls played the cards dealt them … sometimes all you can do. There’s just never been a win-win solution.
One Power 5 administrator said Temple hasn’t been in that conversation lately in any meaningful way. Why not? What’s the single biggest reason Temple hasn’t gotten much Power 5 consideration?
The administrator gave a 1A answer … “Recent football and basketball downturn came at an awful time.”
Hard to argue there. But, he added, there also was a 1B.
The Big Ten wouldn’t consider Temple because Penn State already gets the league into Philly, with Rutgers and Maryland now also surrounding the city. The SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have so far shown zero interest in expanding into the Northeast.
That leaves the Atlantic Coast Conference as a Hail Mary pass. It seems like a 60-yard pass more than a 80-yarder, in the sense that Temple is at least within range of a dream — which may also be the problem, since it also seems always just beyond reach. Philadelphia wouldn’t be awful for a league that has an Eastern Seaboard hole from Virginia up to Boston, unless you count Pittsburgh or Syracuse as Eastern Seaboard.
Temple, for all its historical basketball success and major-market placing, just doesn’t offer the kind of streaming audience that makes the Owls a real catch for a league trying to grow its audience . If that’s the future coin of the realm, getting straight to the consumer, would you rather have Temple, eighth in AAC home football attendance in 2019, or East Carolina, leading the way, with an average of 10,000 more people in its stadium than the Owls averaged at the Linc that season? (Picking a tough season for that comparison? The opposite. Temple was 8-5 in 2019, East Carolina was 4-8, and four games behind the Owls in the league standings.)
What does this mean for Temple? Building the foundation back up is the first task at hand, which obviously means building back the football and basketball programs.
That’s the real job for the next athletic director to be hired by new president Jason Wingard, now a front-burner move. There isn’t a potential AD out there who could wave a wand or make a phone call and drastically improve Temple’s chances of reaching the Power 5 in the near term. If, however, the marquee programs (football and basketball) achieve true liftoff again and contend for the top of the AAC, then the conversation about the future could maybe start to expand.
It might not be enough, by the way, which defines the box Temple is in, and the problem with the ACC dream. There isn’t a men’s basketball program nationally with more current buzz than Memphis, and the Tigers also won the AAC football title in 2019, in addition to being second in home attendance. Memphis also was not good enough to get a Big 12 invite despite being in a fine geographic spot.
One last dissatisfying short-term thought for Temple: If you can’t be in the league you love, love the league you’re in. Then do what you can to win it.