Does Philly really need another sports temple?
Philadelphia prepares to build yet another sports facility. How much is really enough?
Jim Kenney's administration hasn't even started yet, and already it's getting weirder than I expected. I mean, who in the betting pool would have picked "The Eagles" and "Temple" as the first two entities that the incoming mayor would pick a fight with? (If you did, prepare to carry home a huge jackpot.) I will say that Kenney -- in urging Temple football to stay at the Linc rather than build a new $100 million stadium on the North Philadelphia campus -- has spotlighted something I've thought for years, which is that the siting and use of major sports facilities here rarely makes any common sense.
All my life, I've juggled my liberal ideas -- that cities and universities should put glitzy sports palaces at the bottom of their priority list, behind things like textbooks and school nurses and scholarships, for example -- with my sports fanaticism and my belief that new stadiums (stadia?) are really cool. Temple's a great case study. I'm not an Owls fan, but I've seen enough of their home games on TV to understand why the university is pushing this. The atmosphere at the Linc, which is 2/3 empty unless the opponent is Penn State or Notre Dame, is terrible, and it's a cruel schlepp for students to get to South Philly. A beautiful on-campus stadium would be a great recruitment tool for the kind of kids that colleges tend to recruit these days.
But what a waste, right? The Linc is also one of the best football stadiums in the country, opened just 12 years ago. Right now it only gets used maybe 25 days a year, at most -- does it really need to lose five of those dates. And, yes, there are many more constructive ways that Temple could spend $100 million, even if it's dubious that its wealthiest alums would donate for those things.
I think I blogged this once before, but back in the days when Philly was trying to get a Major League Soccer team (you could make the case that we're still trying). I thought there was a perfect solution for some of our stadium problems. The city already has a prime piece of real estate devoted to a stadium -- Franklin Field -- but it's the wrong stadium (i.e., way too big) for what's needed there today. Knock down most or all of the upper deck, create a stunning view of Center City off the east end zone, put in real seats and some luxury suites (sigh) and...viola, a perfect, 30,000-seat home for Penn football, Temple football, and MLS soccer.
But surely that's too many players with too many petty issues and rivalries to do something creative like that. (And no, anticipating your comments, I don't know what to do about the Penn Relays...it's only 3 days, for chrissakes). Anyway, creativity and cooperation is not how we roll in Philly.
So what to do about Temple football? Look, if billionaire alums and trustees really want to build the new stadium -- and if they can locate it in a place that won't dump on the already beleaguered citizens of North Philly, and if they want ZERO public dollars, then go for it. If not, then Kenney is exactly right to push the Eagles not to gouge Temple and negotiate a new lease. There's surely a logical solution to the Temple stadium conundrum. But how often do you hear logic and sports in the same sentence?