As a Temple alum, yesterday’s news that the Big East is finally looking to add Temple as an all sports member, as soon as next season for football, was big news. The reaction from most people affiliated with the university has been overwhelmingly positive, as many feel that Temple is finally getting the national attention and respect it deserves. They also have the added bonus of thumbing their nose (and using other fingers) at Villanova, who has long attempted to keep Temple from being a member, particularly in basketball. As the celebration commences over the likely inclusion of Temple in a “big time” conference, I may be the only person who thinks joining the Big East is NOT the best thing for Temple University.
Temple and the Big East conference have had a long, hot/cold relationship over the last 30+ years. Temple had an opportunity to join the original Big East at its inception, but held up in the hope that Joe Paterno and Penn State would include them in a proposed Eastern football conference. But Paterno wanted a conference with no revenue sharing in football, so the proposed conference never got off the ground, and Temple had to wait until 1991, when the Big East decided to try to be a major football conference by adding Miami, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, and West Virginia, along with Temple. In 2004, the Big East kicked Temple out of the conference for failing to field a competitive football team and a lack of fan support. Now, less than a decade later, as Temple’s football team is coming off its second ever bowl win, and Fran Dunphy has led the basketball team into the Top 25 once again, the Big East has finally come crawling back to Temple – this time with an all sports offer that Temple would be crazy to turn down. Right?
WRONG. The most important detail everyone is missing in the hoopla over Temple joining a big time conference is this: THE BIG EAST IS NO LONGER A BIG TIME CONFERENCE. Don’t believe me? Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech all bolted for the ACC in 2004. West Virginia is headed to the Big 12 next year. Pittsburgh and charter member Syracuse are bailing to join the ACC in 2014. TCU turned down the Big East to join the Big 12 instead. TCU!! If the Big East is such a “premier” conference that Temple should be desperate to join, then why are all the other major athletic programs fleeing like rats from a sinking ship? Because they see the writing on the wall, and Temple should too. As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is dead.
There are many arguments as to how the Big East ended up on life support. Some would say they allowed the basketball schools (like Villanova!!) too much power, denying Penn State admission in 1982 among other mistakes. While it’s true that the attempt to maintain its identity as a basketball conference may have led to its demise, the Big East was originally created to be exactly that. And while some claim it was foolish to have large state schools competing with tiny private schools in the same conference, the Big East’s vision worked for the better part of 25 years, as it established itself as the premier basketball conference in the country; just two years ago, they landed a record 10 NCAA tournament berths. But a basketball conference was doomed as soon as college football formed the Bowl Alliance in 1995, which led to the current BCS system in 1998. Suddenly any program not included in a major football conference was risking its opportunities to land lucrative bowl bids and share millions in TV revenue sharing. Once this happened, the Big East never had a chance to retain its key football members, and every step taken since then has only been scrabbling at the ledge to delay the inevitable plummet off the cliff – including the invitation extended to include Temple’s resurgent football program.
Speaking of that football program, no one would argue, even me, that a move from the MAC to the Big East is almost a no brainer decision – in the short run. Regardless of the future of the conference, it is still considered by most (even if it’s mistakenly) to be a “premier’ conference, and does receive an automatic BCS bowl bid, as well as more consideration for its schools for other bowls. Finishing 3rd or 4th in the MAC means sweating over a bowl bid; doing the same in the Big East virtually guarantees one. The affiliation would help with recruiting in all sports immediately.
However, Temple’s athletics department and administrators need to take a long-term view of this. The Big East isn’t finished dealing with potential defections. ESPN seems to be pushing for a 4×16 super conference format that would include the Pac 10, SEC, Big 12, and ACC. One of the Big 12’s likely targets is Louisville, which already turned down an offer to join the Big 12 once, but with the defections of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, would be much more receptive to an offer the second time around. When the ACC also looks to add 2 more teams, it almost definitely would include Connecticut and one more school, which could be Rutgers, Cincinnati…or Temple.
Instead of grabbing the branch being extended by the Big East to only delay the inevitable fall over the cliff, the ACC is where Temple’s attention should be focused. While some may be concerned about the risk involved in hoping for an ACC invitation, and being left out of a major conference when it comes, Temple has much more leverage than people realize. As these super conferences are being drawn up and conferences are frantically looking for schools to compete, Temple has more options than ever. With the resurgence of the football program and a historically strong basketball program in the city’s fifth largest market, Temple is one of the most attractive schools available on the market. It’s no coincidence that the Big East finally swooped in with an all sports offer after rumors swirled about potentially joining a new conference created by the merger of the Mountain West and Conference USA.
Not to mention joining the Big East now would raise the level of competition by name only, particularly in basketball. Temple is not joining the Big East that had the most riveting conference tournament in the country. They’re joining the former Conference USA – Houston, SMU, UCF, Boise State, De Paul, South Florida…UGH. If Connecticut and Louisville join the rush to leave the Big East, the only premier basketball teams in the conference will be Georgetown, Villanova, Memphis, Notre Dame, and Marquette. The A10 has similar strength at the top of the conference, despite not getting its due, and offers the added benefit of maintaining rivalries with Big 5 schools Lasalle and St. Joe’s. I find it funny how Temple fans love to rip Nova but are willing to disrupt the Big 5 even further at the drop of a hat.
Lastly, if Temple joins the Big East for the 2012 football season, reports say it will cost Temple somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5 million to dump its current affiliations with the Atlantic 10 and MAC. That’s a lot of coin for a school that is facing budget cuts from the state. While others would quickly point out the revenue windfall from being a member of a BCS conference, I’ll point out this little secret that’s not often talked about – the Big East may not be a part of the BCS after 2013. The conference will be evaluated along with all other member conferences to see if it should retain its status as an automatic qualifier. This is why the conference reached across the country to invite Boise State despite it only being “East” of the state of Washington. The Big East knows their lack of competitive football programs means their automatic bid is in serious jeopardy, and is desperately trying to bolster its resume before 2013. While Boise State and San Diego State have accepted to join starting in 2013, those decisions could be altered, much like TCU, if further defections are announced or better offers are extended.
By overruling charter member Villanova’s long time opposition to sharing its market with Temple, the Big East’s desperation couldn’t be more evident. I, for one, hope Temple doesn’t show the same desperation to be included with the “big boys” and make a BIG mistake in the process.