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Temple's big win no big deal to ex-Owls felled by cuts

Sixty miles away, as he and his wife relaxed at their family shore house near Barnegat, N.J., Fred Turoff paid no attention to the euphoria that swelled in and around Lincoln Financial Field and swept across the city Saturday afternoon.

Sixty miles away, as he and his wife relaxed at their family shore house near Barnegat, N.J., Fred Turoff paid no attention to the euphoria that swelled in and around Lincoln Financial Field and swept across the city Saturday afternoon.

Temple's football team had beaten Penn State, 27-10, its first victory over the Nittany Lions since 1941, a sign that perhaps the Owls' program was finally worthy of unconditional respect. But Turoff couldn't bring himself to turn on his television and witness the history. He had been the university's men's gymnastics coach from 1976 until last year, his tenure given a hard expiration date once Temple's trustees voted to cut men's gymnastics and six other varsity sports. So no, Turoff did not watch the game, and he doesn't plan to watch any this season, and his reasons are obvious and understandable.

"At this point, Temple football has little meaning for me," he said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "I'm happy that they won. It's a terrific accomplishment, and I'm sure the coaches worked real hard and the kids worked real hard, but I'm sad that my sport was sacrificed along the way."

Here was the other side of that celebrative Saturday for Temple. Here was the price so easily forgotten amid the sea of cherry and white flooding the Linc's parking lots during those postgame tailgates, the schadenfreude for those uppity Penn State fans, and the pride that many alumni had been waiting years to sense and savor. When Temple's trustees decided in December 2013 to cut men's gymnastics, baseball, softball, men's indoor and outdoor track, and men's and women's crew - the latter two sports were eventually reinstated - they did so ostensibly to balance the athletic department's budget and remain in compliance with Title IX.

But everyone knew the real motivation for the purge: The university wanted to augment its football program, wanted to become a power in the most powerful and lucrative of college sports, and to get there, the program's budget needed supplementing.

Never mind that from the 2011-12 scholastic year to 2012-13, according to the Department of Education, Temple's football revenue fell $4 million. Never mind that Temple's overall winning percentage in football is .429, that the program has had three winning seasons over the last 25 years, that the past doesn't bear out the belief that all the program needed was just a few more dollars and a little more commitment to become something special.

Never mind that Turoff's men's gymnastics teams had won 18 league championships over his 38 years at Temple, that the tuition money his athletes brought into the university exceeded his budget expenditures - including his own salary. Never mind that Skip Wilson, the Owls' head baseball coach for 46 years before retiring in 2005, sat in his Ambler home Saturday and watched the victory over Penn State with neither joy nor bitterness, just indifference to the decision that had reduced the program he built to rubble. "I don't have any feelings one way or another," Wilson said. "Dropping those sports - I think it was wrong, but what the hell can you do about it?"

Never mind the 150 student-athletes whom the trustees told, Sorry, relative to football, your sports don't matter at all anymore. Never mind gymnast Evan Eigner, Turoff's stepson, who transferred to Ohio State, who like Turoff tried to avoid any mention of Saturday's game but found reactions to the Owls' victory gushing from his social-media feeds. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat - he couldn't escape, and an ambivalence grew within him.

"I'm not going to lie," Eigner said. "It is tough rooting for Temple athletics and Temple football, more in the present. I love Temple athletics in the past. But I don't really have the same feeling now. In one aspect, there's some part of you that wants Temple athletics not to do well. The gymnastics team brought something to Temple athletics that is now gone. So there's that kind of feeling.

"There's also another feeling where you look at the big picture and say, 'Yeah, it is good for their program. It is good for the athletes involved.' It's definitely different for me compared to my old teammates at Temple. They're all gung-ho Temple. I think they're still stung by the cuts, but they've let go of that to some extent. They still have that Temple pride, which is tough for me."

Never mind the recruits from those since-disbanded programs, those athletes who made promises to Temple and saw Temple break its promises to them. Never mind Shelby Stracher, a catcher from Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, Mass., who had what she described as a "panic attack" when she learned that Temple was dropping softball, that her 75 percent athletic scholarship was gone. A few months later, she was fortunate to sign with Towson University for a comparable tuition cost. She didn't watch the Temple-Penn State game, either. She wasn't even aware the two teams were playing each other.

"Good for the football team," Stracher said by phone Tuesday. "If they're going to cut [five] teams, I would hope that they would win a game."

Damn right. If a university is willing to eliminate five sports to enhance its football program, then shouldn't that team be expected to beat even an opponent such as Penn State? How many games does coach Matt Rhule's team have to win this season to justify what the university did in December 2013? How many next season? What's the chemistry that balances this equation? There was much celebration Saturday in South Philadelphia and on North Broad Street, but don't forget. Don't ever forget. That sweet, sweet sensation came with a cost.