Discussions between Temple and the Big East Conference regarding the Owls joining the league for football are hitting final stages, according to multiple sources Wednesday.
The talks include Temple's becoming a Big East member for all sports, two well-placed sources told The Inquirer, but those talks aren't as far along.
But is it a done deal? Sources from both the Big East and the Atlantic Ten Conference, which claims Temple as a member for basketball and all sports other than football, said late in the day that there was no deal yet. Especially since exit negotiations with Temple's current leagues have to be part of the mix.
The major impetus for this membership switch to happen quickly is the Big East needs to fill its 2012 football schedule - now that West Virginia has negotiated an immediate departure for the reconstituted Big 12 Conference. Temple is a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference.
"We are aware that Temple has been in discussion with the Big East regarding membership," Mid-American commissioner Jon A. Steinbrecher said in a statement. "Our position on this matter is that we have a contract in place with specifics that will govern and determine how this matter is handled."
Assume a Temple exit would be a many-angled negotiation. The MAC has a $2.5 million fee for an exit with two years notice, so the negotiation for an immediate exit starts there. A source said some MAC schools don't like the idea of having to fill their own 2012 schedules with an extra game at this late date.
Meanwhile, Big East football schools need Temple now. And according to CBSsports.com, the Atlantic Ten has a $2 million exit fee with a year's notice. The Atlantic 10 office said commissioner Bernadette McGlade was traveling and couldn't be reached for comment. Reached Wednesday morning, Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw declined comment.
If the deal gets done for all sports, it would be the culmination of a quarter-century quest by Temple to join the Big East for all sports. Temple originally had been invited into the league at its inception, but turned down the offer, believing an all-sports league headed by Penn State was in the offing.
If this happens for all sports, it is long-awaited good news on North Broad Street but also a major hit to Atlantic 10 basketball, losing the school that has had the most success over the longest period and presently sits atop the basketball standings this season.
St. Joseph's and La Salle would remain in the Atlantic 10, considered a notch below the Big East as a basketball league. Obvious A-10 targets to replace Temple would include George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, two schools that reached the Final Four in the last six years out of the Colonial Athletic Association. Maybe the biggest target would be Butler, a Final Four participant the last two years out of the Horizon League.
A big part of this year-long saga: Villanova had not wanted Temple in the Big East for all sports, and originally had the support of other basketball schools, given how much Villanova had contributed to league coffers with deep runs in the NCAA tournament. But that support waned after the league lost Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia and took in some lesser basketball schools as replacements.
Another factor for Villanova is that the school didn't necessarily want Temple in for football and basketball, if Villanova's Division 1-AA football program wasn't in the league. There are no signs that the Big East is currently talking about adding Villanova to its football league. It appears that the Big East already has the approval of conference basketball schools to add Temple for football-only.
A Big East source said Villanova had expressed its opposition to Temple joining the league based on not wanting to share the Philadelphia TV market. There have been recent discussions among some Big East members about perhaps offering Villanova some type of compensation for sharing the basketball market with the Owls.
There is no question that the recent success of Temple football and basketball is playing a part in all of this interest. Temple's new-found football respectability wasn't enough as the Big East went through recent rounds of expansion - a primarily western expansion. But as the Big East added Southern Methodist, for instance, East Coast basketball schools clearly felt the need to protect the league's greatest brand.
Temple joined the Big East for football-only when the league began playing football in 1991 and was kicked out in 2004 due to its lack of success on the field and at the box office.
Another major factor in Temple's favor is that Big East schools aren't confident the league is done losing members, since the Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference could expand again. Louisville and even Cincinnati could go to the Big 12. Connecticut and even Rutgers could go to the ACC.
By the time Navy joins the Big East for football-only in 2015, the league is slated to have 12 teams, including additions Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports and Boise State and San Diego for football-only.
The newly merged Conference USA and Mountain West also expressed interest in having Temple join for football-only. That has presumably been a backup option all along. For at least a quarter century, gaining entry to the Big East for all sports has been Temple's institutional goal.