Temple's trustees fumbled, big-time

Temple President Neil D. Theobald greeted some of the student athletes before the board meeting began.
Temple President Neil D. Theobald greeted some of the student athletes before the board meeting began.
Posted: December 13, 2013

One of the great benefits of playing sports is that it teaches accountability. There's no hiding when you overthrow first or miss a block or brick a free throw. You have to take responsibility for actions that don't turn out well, just as you accept praise for the ones that succeed.

It would be nice if every young person had the opportunity to absorb those lessons, and nice if every college student who wanted to take part in a sport was encouraged and supported by his or her school.

That's not reality, though, and it's certainly not the reality faced by Temple and every other college and university in this country right now. It was a hard decision for Temple to drop seven sports programs, a decision announced last week, even if the school has been at least partially responsible for putting itself in that bind.

You don't have to agree with the outcome - and I don't - but you have to accept that it was made by well-meaning people trying to do what they thought was best for the school, for the other athletic programs, and for the future.

What you do not have to accept, however, is the shameful lack of accountability shown by Temple's board of trustees, who chose to ignore more than 100 athletes from the dropped programs who went to the trustees' open meeting Tuesday night but were not allowed even a small forum to express their feelings.

The president of the school, Neil D. Theobald, and the board of trustees both had to sign off on the restructuring plan brought forward by the board's athletic committee and the athletic department that will save approximately $3 million from a total budget of $44 million.

This wasn't a missed free throw. It was a decision that affects the lives of 150 students and really affects the lives of the nine full-time coaches who stand to lose their jobs. Take a deep breath, take some questions, and take responsibility. Take ownership of your actions. No, not the Temple board, which chose to open and close its meeting in a sprightly 20 minutes as if the room was empty.

Maybe Temple would have saved more money by keeping baseball and softball and getting rid of the board of trustees. There certainly would have been an increase in accountability and an uptick in courage on campus.

As for the decision itself, Theobald said the excised programs were "casualties of Temple University's overreach in trying to operate an athletic program beyond its facilities and resources."

In fact, what it gets back to, and what it always gets back to, is the school's trying to operate a football program that can barely sustain itself, let alone be the breadwinner for the entire athletic department, as is the case with more successful programs.

We're not talking about a football program headed in the right direction, either. Football revenue at Temple fell nearly $4 million from the 2011-12 school year to the 2012-2013 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Now the Owls find themselves wedged into the moribund husk of the old Big East football conference, rechristened the American Athletic Conference, without a single natural rival and - as of next season - in a league that no longer has a guaranteed seat at the BCS feast.

Meanwhile, the other Temple sports teams have to leave school and travel all over the country for conference games against Cincinnati and Southern Methodist and South Florida and all the rest, none of which makes any damn sense. No kidding they had to cut sports to save money. They just didn't cut the one they should have.

Nothing makes Temple administrators scream more than that, of course. They wring their hands and talk about school pride and the corporate sponsors and alumni donations that would dry up if the Owls didn't field another 2-10 team to rattle around Lincoln Financial Field among 20,000 truly lost souls (on a very good day).

Theobald said last month that when Temple's master plan is announced next year, one of the items on the list will be the proposed construction of an on-campus football stadium. This is a school that can't even contemplate building a new boathouse to keep the rowing teams afloat, in a city with an impossibly rich rowing tradition, but it can find the money to build a football stadium? That's a neat trick.

The real trick would have been having the vision to position the varsity sports in a regionally appropriate conference in which travel would have required one-day bus rides instead of overnight airplane flights. If football had to make its way as an independent, or as a football-only member of another conference, then so be it. If the football program is as great and important as the Temple administration pretends it is, that wouldn't be a problem.

Dragging the rest of the athletic department behind the overloaded ambitions of the football program didn't work. It certainly didn't work last week for baseball, softball, men's and women's rowing, men's indoor and outdoor track and field, and men's gymnastics. Some of the cuts were made to settle a long-standing problem with Title IX compliance (those 85 football scholarships are hard to offset), and some just to save a few bucks.

Here's a promise. Give me a line-item budget for the football team and I can find a savings of $3 million that would have equaled last week's cuts without causing the same pain suffered by 150 students and nine coaches.

If I'm wrong, I'll hold a meeting and everyone who shows up can have their say. That's just the right thing to do.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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