Temple living with conference woes

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Posted: February 06, 2014

The music played for years, as colleges across the country circled the chairs and tried to find exactly the right seat for their student population and alumni aspirations.

Some of the destinations where these NCAA schools initially landed looked more out of place than a rhinoceros walking down Broad Street. In December 2011, for instance, it was announced that Boise State and San Diego State were ready to join the Big East with complete disregard for the fact that neither school was even on the east coast of their own western-based states. Thankfully, they eventually came to their senses and opted out of a Big East that would soon undergo an extreme makeover.

The two local schools mixing it up among the movers and shakers were Villanova and Temple. The former is a relatively small, private university on the Main Line unsure about whether it wanted to play a bigger brand of football. The latter is a large, public research university cocksure it was ready to play a bigger brand of football after finding success in the Mid-American Conference.

The music has stopped, and only one of the City Six schools appears to have landed in an uneasy place surrounded by water, with a ball and chain strapped to its ankles.

That would be Temple.

It is amazing to go back 23 months and see how proud Owls nation was when it was announced the outstanding school on North Broad was moving to the Big East in football and basketball.

"This is arguably the greatest day in the history of Temple athletics," former athletic director Bill Bradshaw said in statement that March 2012 day. "We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Big East and its member schools."

Boy, that sure was a day to remember, and who will ever forget Temple's one season in the Big East. After going 26-12 overall and 17-7 against conference opponents its last three seasons in the very competitive MAC, the Temple football team went 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the Big East before the conference disintegrated into a basketball-only operation of small, private schools.

Now, Temple is in the American Athletic Conference, which bears about as much resemblance to the old Big East as the average guy does to Bradley Cooper.

Football and money drove the move, just as they are the primary reasons seven Temple sports are trying to survive their scheduled end-of-year trips to the gallows pole.

"Where we are right now, we're not trying to fumble around and see if we can find our way into major college football," former Owls football coach Steve Addazio said upon finding out his school was moving to the Big East. "This is a plan that's been going on for quite some time."

Addazio is now the head coach at Boston College. Matt Rhule replaced him last year. Temple, despite some competitive games, went 2-10 overall and 1-7 in league play in its first season in the AAC. At the moment, the Temple football program looks a lot closer to the one that was kicked out of the Big East earlier in the century than the one that so badly wanted to get back in.

The shining athletic light at Temple has always been the men's basketball program. Hall of Famer John Chaney handed the torch to the legendary Fran Dunphy eight years ago, and the Owls remained among the elite in an Atlantic Ten conference that improved its prowess in recent years by adding St. Louis, George Mason, and VCU.

For a variety of reasons, Dunphy's Owls have struggled in their inaugural season in the AAC. They would have struggled in the Atlantic Ten this season, too.

Moving forward, however, Temple's new basketball conference doesn't look all that more appealing than its old one. If the Owls had ended up in the Big East, it would have been fun to see whether they could have wrestled away control from Villanova as the city's top team in terms of talent and reputation.

The best basketball school in Temple's new conference is Louisville, but the Cardinals are leaving for the ACC after this season. Rutgers is leaving for the Big Ten, a move that competitively challenged school will live to regret for a long, long time.

Some of the teams that will remain in Temple's new conference - Connecticut, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Houston - have terrific basketball histories, but none of them are natural rivals for the Owls.

Maybe Temple can eventually make this work. Maybe the football team so many of the alumni want to succeed will finally become a power in the AAC. It's a better bet that Dunphy gets the basketball team going again in the near future.

Right now, however, Villanova looks far more comfortable as an FCS football program and the premier team in the reconfigured Big East. La Salle, St. Joseph's, Drexel, and Penn remain right where they were before the music started, which is right where they belonged, anyway.

The Owls, meanwhile, are sitting in a most uncomfortable chair, with the biggest and most controversial rebuilding project in the city awaiting them.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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