Temple took a tortuous path back to Big East

Posted: March 08, 2012

In looking at Temple's return to the Big East, it is natural to focus on the day the football team was kicked out of the league as a low point. But it wasn't necessarily even the lowest.

Athletic director Bill Bradshaw's memories go back almost a decade, to 2004 and the day the football program was facing sudden death.

"The vote by the blue-ribbon committee handpicked by then-president David Adamany" was the worst, Bradshaw said in an interview Thursday. "The vote was something like 8-7 [to continue playing the sport], with three abstentions. The first three votes were no, and one of them was the president's."

If there was any luck involved in getting Temple back into the Big East, it finally turned the school's way when the conference went into scramble mode – its favorite condition lately – to get another team to fill its 2012 football schedule after West Virginia negotiated an immediate buyout.

"It was an intense two days, the last two days," Bradshaw said of getting Temple's board of trustees to approve the financial details and ironing out final issues with the Big East. Conference presidents voted Wednesday to add Temple for football this coming season and for all sports in 2013. The Owls will remain in the Atlantic Ten Conference as it concerns those other sports.

Say this about Temple negotiators - that crew is battle-tested. Bradshaw and the university counsel and the most active board members have gotten used to nothing coming easily. That includes getting a deal done to play at Lincoln Financial Field, and hiring Fran Dunphy as basketball coach.

"Excruciating is the only word I could use to describe how political that got," Bradshaw said of getting top administration and board approval for securing Dunphy, who had been the head coach at Penn. Now, that deal looks like the ultimate no-brainer as the Owls go into the Atlantic Ten tournament Friday in Atlantic City as regular-season champions and assured of their fifth consecutive NCAA appearance.

"Quite honestly, it was one of the most difficult processes for an obvious decision that I have ever been part of," Bradshaw said.

Getting Temple into the Mid-American Conference for football was a key move, allowing the program to get on its feet after it was ousted by the Big East. Hiring coaches Al Golden and then Steve Addazio has transformed the program. Making the Linc Temple's home stadium was crucial, without a good alternative venue.

"That might have been the first building block," Bradshaw said. "That was a very precarious, steep slope. It was at best 50-50. We got it done two weeks before the start of the [2003] season. That went right to the wire."

Bradshaw wasn't thumping his chest. He named a lot of people who were pivotal at different times, both on the board and at staff levels. But I called him because he was the guy involved in all that led to Wednesday's Big East announcement. He can be pugnacious - proudly so - and he had good reason for saying little throughout the conference process. But the big calls have been the right calls on North Broad Street in recent years. If you see Bradshaw running around campus, he's earned the victory lap.

For the Big East, racked by defections, Temple remained a backup plan for much of the time. The conference officials looked in other directions, usually to the West. Bradshaw said there was always hope.

"There aren't as many teams that play I-A football that play good men's and women's basketball," he said.

Maybe the Big East's taking a school such as Southern Methodist for all sports was the best thing that happened for Temple. At that point, Big East basketball schools knew that football was being saved but basketball wasn't being served in the process. Villanova hadn't wanted Temple for all sports.

At another point, Bradshaw recalled, satisfying Boise State became the highest priority.

"There was always somebody else," he recalled.

There is an epidemic of high-major programs, football programs in particular, scrambling for conference memberships that will serve them best. Bradshaw knows that expansion and realignment will continue, and the Big East likely isn't done subtracting or adding, and the league's football and basketball schools eventually could split.

For Temple, this is as stable as it gets, so Bradshaw is lifting his gaze.

"The stars were aligning," Bradshaw said of the process that led to Wednesday's announcement. "All these moving parts, they have to align."

Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

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