John Smallwood: Bad Time to Be Back in Big East

Temple, in its first year back in the Big East, celebrates overtime field goal in win over UConn.DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Temple, in its first year back in the Big East, celebrates overtime field goal in win over UConn.DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Temple finally in its old conference, only to see it abandoned by powerhouses

Posted: December 16, 2012

I kind of feel bad for Temple University, but I don't feel like it is getting screwed.

That Temple's long-desired arrival into the

Big East Conference is now turning into a

doomsday nightmare is a self-inflicted wound that should have been anticipated.

The higher-ups at Temple were so married to the idea of being a part of "big-time" college football that they jumped into a shotgun wedding with a reluctant suitor that had already dumped them once and this time looked down on them even as they were walking down the aisle.

I mean, shouldn't Temple have been a little suspect about its stature with Big East football when the league invited Boise State, San Diego State, Central Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist, Navy and Memphis before them?

But Temple was so eager to play football with the big dogs, it jumped in March when invited.

Now, Temple is finding out that there is a big difference between "big-time" college football and "BIG-TIME" college football.

It's finding out that the grass isn't always greener on the football field - especially if you are a program north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi.

The Big East is to the other BCS conferences - the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern - what Temple football was to the Big East.

It's something you take as a last resort, but you'd just as soon do without.

In the coming era of super conferences, the Big East lost the fight to be the last league in, to the ACC.

Temple, which saw its football program dumped by the Big East in 2004, was invited back in only after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they were moving to the ACC; West Virginia had jumped to the Big 12 and Texas Christian University pulled out to go to the Big 12 before ever playing a game.

I guess the idea that the Big East still had an automatic tie-in to a BCS bowl was preferable to remaining in the "second-tier" Mid-American Conference.

But since the Owls made their triumphant return to the Big East football in 2012, Rutgers has moved to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC.

The other two BCS football schools - Cincinnati and Connecticut - are licking their wounds and trying to figure out who they can get to absorb them in the next round of expansion.

When the Big East was part of the original BCS Super Six mafia, it had strong football programs with Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College.

Unfortunately for the Big East, college football Darwinism stepped up in 2005 and the ACC strengthened itself by swiping Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The Big East countered by adding Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida. But the ACC, by being proactive, had pegged the Big East as the runt of the litter to be exploited in future fights.

When the next wave of realignment happened last year, the Big East got raided again. It is now gutted of all of its recognized football brands.

Going forward as the BCS

morphs, it remains to be seen if the Big East can maintain its spot in the college-football money grab.

Now Temple is about to get hit with another payment for dancing with the devil wearing football cleats.

Already gutted of its name programs in football, the Big East is about to have its storied basketball legacy disintegrate.

It is being reported that the seven non-BCS football Big East schools (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova) are planning to announce as early as next week that they will leave the conference.

When that happens, Connecticut will be the only power program left in a conference that was traditionally one of the best in college basketball.

The administration at Temple might have wanted the Big East move for football, but to the average Owls fans, most of whom didn't give a hoot about football, the Big East finally meant the basketball program getting the type of respect it deserved.

Most Temple fans always believed that the basketball program deserved higher status than the Atlantic 10, and being in the Big East was acknowledgement of that.

That, however, was the old Big East - one that had NCAA championship programs in Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse and Villanova, plus Final Four appearances by practically everyone.

The problem is that for all of its desires to be more, Temple is still a basketball-centric school swimming in an ocean of football great white sharks. Now, without the protection that Big East basketball previously provided, it's likely going to be part of the chum once the final feeding frenzy begins.

The higher-ups at Temple should have had more foresight.

If a storied basketball power program like Kansas, with its three NCAA championships, almost got lost hanging in the wind when the Big 12 was dealing with possible football defections, Temple had to have a sense that the Big East basketball schools would eventually make a move to protect themselves from being overrun by football.

Another irony is that if the departing Big East basketball schools were to take the option to join the A-10, Temple would have less basketball credibility in a new mishmashed Big East.

Temple is in a Big East Conference that is now "Big" in football in name only and soon will be stripped of the thing that gave it birth and significance - "BIG-TIME" college basketball.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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