Mike Jensen has been covering college sports in this town for a long time. On Wednesday, he dropped by the Not Another Philly Sports Talk Show studio to offer some insight on the future of Temple football in the aftermath of Matt Rhule's decision to leave town for Baylor after four strong seasons with the Owls.
As Jensen writes in his column today, the last couple of months have served as a reality check for Temple's aspirations with Rhule's departure for the Big 12 coming not long after that conference removed Temple from a long list of schools it was considering as expansion candidates.
Along with Mike Sielski, Jensen offers some keen insight on Temple's plans as it looks to replace a third straight coach who left town for a job in one of the five so-called "power" conferences.
As I wrote earlier today, the issue is two-pronged. While advocates of the Owls' plan to invest heavily in football by way of an on-campus stadium tend to focus on the legitimate question of Temple's ability to someday earn a spot in one of those aforementioned conferences (the Big 12 and ACC are most commonly mentioned), the bigger issue in my opinion concerns the legitimacy of any academic institution's investment in what has become a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry.
The irony is that my argument against such investment mirrors the argument in favor of it, at least at the beginning. A successful football program and vibrant on-campus gameday atmosphere unquestionably increase the attractiveness of a university to prospective students. Big-time college football increases demand among prospective students, which increases applications. An increase in applications enables a university to do two things. One is that it allows the university to be more selective in the students it accepts, which one can certainly argue is a good thing. But the other thing it does is it enables the university to charge more for tuition. That's just basic economics. That might be acceptable in a free market, but the higher education market is not a free market, because of a variety of factors that includes the billions of dollars in direct funding that these universities receive from state appropriations and federal research grants, and, moreso, the student loan system as it exists at both the private and federal levels.
Each of those factors is grounds for debate in and of itself. Nobody is suggesting the current student debt crisis is attributable to major college football. But in our current system, in which our future workforce and tax base bear the entire risk of the decisions they make as teenagers about taking out six-figure loans for a product that society tells them is a necessity for survival, it is academic and economic malpractice to use those freely flowing dollars to fund a professional sports league that does nothing to prepare said teenagers to become productive and financially secure members of this rapidly changing economy.