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Jensen: Temple is facing reality checks

When it comes to Temple sports, the reality checks never stop coming. The last few months should be a massive reality check, not just for Temple's brass but the growing fan base.

When it comes to Temple sports, the reality checks never stop coming.

The last few months should be a massive reality check, not just for Temple's brass but the growing fan base.

Matt Rhule was ready for an offer he couldn't refuse. As it turns out, he probably got two of them, the one he took from Baylor and a bargaining chip for the ages from Oregon. Temple was an innocent bystander, not even at this poker table. The administration knew that.

What the administration also has to accept is that the Big 12, doing its massive and meaningless dog-and-pony expansion show earlier this fall, didn't even include Temple in the semifinals.

Here's reality: Rhule could look around on Thanksgiving weekend and see Lincoln Financial Field less than half full, far less, for an American Athletic Conference East-clinching game against East Carolina. That's the difference between the Power 5 and the next rung, right there. Full stadiums mean revenue and attract Power 5 interest. Temple has made unbelievable strides in this area, It had a great contingent Saturday at Navy for the AAC title game. But it still isn't the big time. That's life all over the AAC.

In the days when I covered national college football for the Inquirer, among other stops, I got to Clemson and Ohio State and Michigan and Florida and Notre Dame and Nebraska and Texas A&M. There were more people at Texas A&M's yell practice the night before the game than were at this Temple-East Carolina game. The big time is different. It's bigger.

More important, I stopped at Mississippi State two years ago because the Bulldogs, coached by a Delaware County native, had hit No. 1 in the rankings. Make all the Starkville jokes you want, I saw eye-opening facilities paid for by Southeastern Conference TV revenue. The football complex was every bit as good as the Eagles have, next to a baseball complex the Phillies wish they had, next to a tennis complex capable of holding a pro tournament. Each sport had state of the art.

Baylor's McLane Stadium isn't massive, with a 45,000 capacity. But they get 45,000 or close to it for the games, even the little games.

The idea that Rhule would turn down Power 5 revenue hitting his own pocket, it was never feasible. He hired a big-time agent to get to the big time. A lot of Temple fans got mad at me for writing Notre Dame should hire Rhule. Who didn't get mad, obviously? Rhule. If Notre Dame had opened, I'd bet he would have been a serious, serious contender. Would he have taken the job? You got your answer this week.

Maybe I've been looking at Temple's gambit to build a campus stadium all wrong. Maybe it isn't an attempt to hit the big time but an acknowledgement that the next rung down is reality. (Separate matter: If they can build a football stadium in the city of Philadelphia for $150 million, they deserve awards.) But if the stadium happens, it will be because fitting 60,000 into the Linc for games that don't include opponents such as Penn State and Notre Dame just isn't feasible.

Getting to the Power 5 is the holy grail, and I still think the most likely path is if cable packages get de-bundled and say the ACC decides it needs the Philadelphia market for its ACC Network. That still doesn't mean Temple is automatically the answer, but that's the kind of scenario that has to happen. Temple employees I've talked to are aware it's less than a 50-50 chance.

So four days after a signature Temple football win, this is all doom and gloom? Hardly. It just circles back to Owls athletic director Pat Kraft having a big job right now, to get Rhule's replacement right. Temple administrators, to a person, understand the challenges of their place. They know the head football job isn't for everyone. Rhule really wanted the job. Call that luck, right time and place, whatever. It worked.

If the next guy comes in frustrated by what he doesn't have - because he's been to Starkville, too - it won't work. That said, Temple also needs a guy with the same ambition and, more important, ability to execute it as Rhule had. That combination has Temple in the nation's top 25 right now, a momentous accomplishment, another milestone, reaching the rankings for the second straight season. It's a shame for Temple that it isn't the big Temple news of the week, more like a footnote. That's the reality of college sports.

Right now if an AAC head football coach isn't coveted by struggling Power 5 programs, it means they're regressing. (Translation: They stink). Temple literally can't afford to settle for not going after the best it can get. The wrong guy can provide a quick slide. Temple fans have experienced stinking. That's the worst reality of all.