Phil Sheridan: Temple needs to say no to Big East

Posted: February 28, 2012

As Temple's board of directors discusses the school's apparently inevitable move to the Big East Conference on Wednesday, here are three words of free advice:

Just say no.

It is probably already too late. There appears to be too much momentum to stop the move now. Nevertheless - and admittedly this may be just an old curmudgeon's point of view - Temple should tell the Big East exactly what it can do with its invitation. Not just out of spite, although there is no point denying there is some spite involved.

This is the high-and-mighty Big East that kicked Temple's football program out in 2004. This is the haughty Big East that had no use for Temple's basketball program through all those years when John Chaney had it among the nation's elite.

And now, like the long-ignored misfit who suddenly gets invited to the cool table, Temple can't believe its good fortune. Finally! The Big East! This has been the goal on North Broad Street for so long, it surely must be the right move.

Maybe it will turn out to be just that. Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw deserves the benefit of the doubt after guiding his department through some tricky situations in recent years. He had to replace the legendary Chaney and, with Fran Dunphy as his choice, did it as well as it was possible to do.

As for the football program, Bradshaw hired Al Golden and then replaced him with Steve Addazio. After being dumped by the Big East, he found a good fit with the Mid-American Conference and a new home at Lincoln Financial Field.

Ironically, after all this, football is the key to the Big East's sudden (and desperate) interest in the school it has disrespected so often and for so long.

Simply put, the Big East needs another football team immediately. And Temple is in a unique position to bail out the conference.

But should it? It is worth a pause, at least, to consider exactly what the Big East is right now. Or, more to the point, what it is not - the powerhouse basketball conference of the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s.

It is also not nearly the football conference it was. For now, the Big East's primary appeal is its BCS affiliation. But that could disappear as the BCS consolidates power - and revenue - in the hands of the truly elite football programs.

And if that is the Big East today, what about tomorrow? Once Syracuse and Pittsburgh are gone, and maybe Louisville or Cincinnati, will the Big East still be that much more desirable than the Atlantic 10, where Temple has thrived in basketball, or the MAC, where Temple has revived its football program? What exactly inspires confidence in the Big East and its commissioner, John Marinatto?

Marinatto is the guy who invited Villanova to upgrade its football program and join the conference in that sport. That sparked a long debate at Villanova, but it turned out Marinatto acted before getting the necessary votes from his member schools. Oops.

And Marinatto appeared surprised by the conference poaching that saw West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh decide to leave the Big East. These are not auxiliary members of the Big East. Losing Syracuse would be like the NFL losing the Chicago Bears or the Big 10 losing Michigan. They are, make that were, core members.

Whether Marinatto is to blame or he's a scapegoat for failures of the university presidents is academic as far as Temple is concerned. Either way, it is reasonable to wonder if this group is capable of regaining the prestige the Big East once had. It is not a good sign when, through a mix of bad luck and poor foresight, the Big East found itself in dire need of an eighth member for the 2012 football season.

If the economics make it impossible for Temple to tear up the invitation and throw it in Marinatto's face, so be it. At the least, the board members must recognize Temple's leverage. They won't have it again. Temple must demand full membership in all sports and make the Big East pay most or all of the fees for withdrawing from its existing contracts. After all, Temple is in those conferences at least partly because of its previous snubbing by the Big East. The Owls should also insist upon an easy escape clause, just in case a more attractive situation presents itself.

The worst thing Temple could do is jump at the chance to join a Big East that just doesn't exist anymore. This is the Owls' chance to get ahead of the conference realignment curve instead of being afterthoughts.

It would be a shame to waste that chance. And, yes, it would feel so good to say no to the Big East.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

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