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Philly doesn’t matter to the AAC, so Temple should get out | Mike Jensen

Where should Temple go? There’s no viable option. But it’s clear that the American Athletic Conference doesn’t care.

Temple is important to Philadelphia. But the wider world of college sports doesn't feel the same way.
Temple is important to Philadelphia. But the wider world of college sports doesn't feel the same way.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

So what’s next for the American Athletic Conference? Maybe expanding out of North America entirely? Seeing more growth potential in South America?

The flights for field hockey games in Buenos Aires might get a bit long and expensive, but the branding potential is through the roof. Or what about Australia? They’ve got some fine universities in Sydney. Just tweak the names in AAC, and maybe upgrade rugby to varsity status.

This week’s actual news — that the AAC has settled on North Texas, UAB, Texas-San Antonio, Rice, Charlotte, and Florida Atlantic to replace Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF — makes this obvious to practically every Temple fan: Temple has to go.

Where? There’s the rub. There is no viable option. Every road ends at a cul-de-sac. Every exit ramp is a runaway truck lane, slowing you down but leading you back to the same place.

» READ MORE: Temple’s new sports era begins with new leaders. Will it look different? | Mike Jensen

Imagine way back if a league came to Temple and said, “You want to join all these schools? We’ve got Memphis (for now), and Tulane and Tulsa, and, hey, we’re on the East Coast … we’ve got Navy for football, and look, East Carolina, too.”

This is the old Conference USA, without the best of that league, which once had Louisville and Cincinnati.

We’ve written often about this box the Owls are in. The new folks in charge on North Broad Street will dream about the Atlantic Coast Conference, and sure, wouldn’t that be great? All problems solved. But phone calls to the ACC might not even be picked up. Temple would probably get some recording telling schools to leave their number and calls will be returned in the order they are received.

“They think they can get to the ACC,” said one ACC alumnus who still has deep ties to that league and has had some access to the current thinking on North Broad Street. “That will never happen.”

If the ACC someday decides it wants the Philadelphia market, hate to tell Temple, but the first call probably goes to the local school that has won a couple of NCAA basketball titles lately, asking Villanova honchos if they’re sure they don’t want to move up in football. The fact that hasn’t happened to any serious degree tells us the ACC really isn’t too concerned about being in Philly. We’ll also again point out that Temple building a campus stadium opens up the Linc for the ACC and Villanova to make an easier deal. (The truth is, Villanova is in the right place for all sports.)

Temple also has chased the dual dreams of football and basketball glory right to this moment. UConn chased the same dream — got to the Fiesta Bowl one year — and finally gave up, orphaning its football program to independent status while rejoining its historic hoops home in the Big East. Temple does not even have that luxury.

» READ MORE: Is there a good league out there for Temple? | Mike Jensen

Could there be a Northeast football league starting with UConn and UMass, maybe talk Army and Navy into it? That’s a start toward some sanity, but how do you fill out that conference? Please don’t suggest FCS football. Where would the Owls play? (Downsize those campus stadium blueprints to about 10,000 capacity.) Also, the Atlantic 10 isn’t the same hoops league that Temple left. It might be the right basketball league, but a return won’t solve all problems.

We’re not, by the way, saying the AAC is making wrong moves. They’re playing the cards they have, choosing legitimate markets for the future.

You know when it was plainly obvious when the AAC wasn’t going to be the long-term fit for Temple? In 2014, when Tulane and Tulsa joined the league. The Owls were on the upswing in football, so expansion was not a front-burner issue. But like these latest moves, those additions were all right for the league, and great for those schools, but mostly worthless for Temple.

Several years back, AAC headquarters also moved from Providence to Irving, Texas. A neon sign saying goodbye to the Northeast. The moving van probably passed Temple on the highway, still 21 hours of driving to go. (Fun fact: If you’re driving from Dallas, Mexico City is two hours closer than Philly. Heading West, Salt Lake City is closer to Dallas, too.)

Temple is so vitally important to this city, but this city isn’t so vital to the wider world of college athletics. The new people in charge can deny that fact all they want. The AAC just made it clear how little it cares whether Temple even sticks around.

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