Murphy: On Temple's Big 12 delusion
With regard to the Big 12's long-rumored and much-anticipated expansion bid, the candidates to join the conference can be broken down into two categories.
1) Schools that everybody is talking about as legitimate candidates (BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, Boise State, UConn, USF, UCF, Colorado State, etc.).
2) Schools that Temple is talking about as legitimate candidates (Temple).
The Temple-to-Big-12 talk is interesting not because of the singular nature of the voice doing the talking, but because of its insistence on continuing to do so, which leaves the impression that beneath it all is a kind of all-the-hot-girls-are-just-playing-hard-to-get desperation from a school that realizes college football doesn't take it nearly as seriously as it takes itself. On Monday, a ranking member of Temple's athletic department joined in the chorus, perhaps noticing the paucity of buzz surrounding the Owls in response to strengthening signals that the Big 12 will indeed expand.
Temple's desire to join the Big 12 is understandable, given the amount of television money that conference members split. It might also be critical, given the long-term forces in play across the college football landscape. Economic rationalism suggests that, at some point, the Power Five conferences are going to realize the financial windfall that would await each one of them if they separated from the NCAA and signed their own television contract, effectively creating a super minor league of 50 to 60 schools that would strangle the television marketability of the 80 or so schools left out. It might not happen before the current College Football Playoff deal expires in 2025, but logic says it will happen at some point.
If it does happen, the difference between that group and the rest of I-FBS will be the same as the current difference between I-FBS and I-FCS. That is not a bad thing in and of itself. Villanova and Delaware both field successful I-FCS programs that aren't any less impactful on student life than Temple's current FBS program. The problem is that Temple has clearly set its sights higher. And that raises the question of what happens if the Power Five disagrees with that self-estimation. Do the numbers still say that the new stadium will "pay for itself" if the football team isn't competing against the Penn States and Notre Dames of the world? I suppose they'll always have that 2025 home date against Oklahoma.
Make no mistake: Temple does have an argument for inclusion, but it is largely a theoretical argument that would require a Power Five conference to take a huge leap of faith on relatively scant evidence. The argument is based mostly on the size of the Philadelphia television market and the investment the school has made in its basketball team.
While the numbers indicate that Philadelphia is a rather tepid college football TV market, Temple can argue that the city simply hasn't had an opportunity to get behind a legitimate college football program. They can point to last year's Temple-Notre Dame game, which earned an 18.1 overnight rating in the local market and a 3.9 overnight rating nationally, the highest-rated game in the nation that week. In all, the argument goes something like this: the only thing that has held Temple back from capturing the Saturdays of the Philadelphia market is legitimacy. Give the city a schedule that includes schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, etc., and they'll show up and tune in, and Temple will spend the money to make them competitive.
Again, the major weakness with this argument is that it is largely theoretical. There are a slew of candidate schools that can point to concrete numbers that suggest they would better bolster the overall value of the league. Cincinnati and USF were both highly successful members of the Big East (Cincy went to BCS bowls in 2009 and 2010, USF posted five straight winning seasons between 2005-10) and both play in television markets that outdraw Philadelphia for college football telecasts. UConn also represented the Big East in a bowl game. Central Florida plays in one of the better college football markets in the country and is just three seasons removed from a thrilling 52-42 upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
And only one of these schools (Cincinnati) is even regarded as being among the frontrunners for admission. The other two would be BYU and Houston, both of whom bring very strong local college football television ratings to the table along with the overall size of their market.
Temple simply doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense for a conference that will have its pick of candidates. Remember, the Big 12 is one of the best college baseball conferences in the nation, and Temple recently axed its program. There is some talk of schools joining in a football-only capacity, but the point remains, the Big 12 has a specific brand that it would like to maintain via a commonality among their schools. Temple simply doesn't fit. Here's a good breakdown of some of the candidates via the Dallas Morning News.
For Temple, a more realistic hope might involve a reshuffling that opens up a spot in a Power Five conference that better fits Temple's profile: for instance, the ACC, where schools like Florida State or Pittsburgh (just to name two at random) might be tempted to jump ship for a higher profile conference.
Still, when you look at the resumes of all of the schools currently outside of the Power Five, it isn't hard to envision a scenario where Temple is left on the outside looking in whenever the dust finally settles and college football's big boys look to consolidate their riches.