Temple's beef with Eagles a ploy?

Posted: April 14, 2014

The public relations tour of Temple president Neil D. Theobald, which has been a train wreck in the last four months as the school clumsily dismantled some of its core varsity sports programs, took another wide turn last week when Theobald essentially accused the Eagles of extortion during lease negotiations between the school and its football stadium landlord.

"They clearly believe we do not have a viable option," Theobald told the Chronicle for Higher Education on Wednesday, when he dropped a story that claimed the Eagles are demanding a doubling of the current rent and what amounts to a $12 million signing bonus for a lease extension that would take effect in 2018.

You have to give Theobald credit for one thing. It's not easy to get the Eagles to say anything publicly these days. They're barely willing to confirm their own existence for the record. It has been more than two weeks since DeSean Jackson was released - kind of a big deal - and there hasn't still been a peep from inside the NovaBunker. Under Chip Kelly, the organization has gone into full lockdown mode.

Theobald's version of the lease negotiation broke through the cone of silence, however. Team president Don Smolenski, the business-side executive who has a well-deserved reputation as a straight shooter, wasn't having any of it.

"We have not had any negotiations or discussions with Temple University about continuing their license for the use of Lincoln Financial Field in over a year. The statements made by President Theobald do not accurately reflect our conversations with Temple representatives, which began in 2010," Smolenski said, when asked by The Inquirer for a response. "In our last meeting, Dr. Theobald asked us to give them time. We have not heard from them since. We do not consider statements in the press to be negotiations with us and we are mystified as to why Temple hasn't communicated with us on this subject in over a year."

Well, as Buddy Ryan used to say, that puts the hay down where the cows can get it.

So, let's play that popular game, "Who's Lying?"

Motive is the best place to start in cases like this. It has been reported previously that the Eagles organization, which gave Temple a 15-year lease in 2003 that called for approximately $1 million per season with no rent increases, were going to seek a bump in the next contract. Temple sources last year estimated the new annual figure sought by the Eagles at approximately $1.5 million.

Theobald said the figure is substantially higher, double the current rent, and, as it was written in the CHE article, was in addition to an up-front payment of $12 million demanded by the Eagles to help offset stadium improvements. A source with knowledge of the discussions called both assertions "grossly inaccurate." Theobald's office has not issued a clarification if it found the article to be in error. In fact, a high-ranking employee of the school's university communications department contacted The Inquirer to make sure we had seen it.

Although the Eagles didn't address financial specifics, Smolenski's statement noted that the negotiations began three years before Theobald was hired and ended shortly after the new president arrived on campus. What would be the Eagles' motivation to be untruthful about the negotiations? Well, they could look cheap, one supposes, or unsupportive of a local institution. That's about it from that side.

Temple's possible motives are quite different. The school remains wed to its vision of big-time football providing some benefit that has traditionally been difficult for outsiders to see. Coming off a bad run of publicity regarding the shuttering of seven varsity sports (two of which were later saved by outside help), this would seem a bad time to announce construction plans for the long-rumored on-campus stadium. The timing could be improved, however, if it appeared the school had no real choice.

"If your landlord wants to substantially increase your rent, you check your options," Theobald told The Inquirer. "We have told them we are going to see what our other options are and see if we can house our football team somewhere else at a lower price."

That's a reasonable argument, if true, although the options are not good. Theobald mentioned PPL Park in Chester, but the American Athletic Conference is hardly going to approve an 18,500-seat venue. He used Franklin Field as another possibility, but it's difficult to imagine Temple swallowing a stepchild position for its supposed star attraction.

No, the on-campus stadium is the only logical choice after Lincoln Financial Field, and, depending on the spin one prefers, that will happen only because the Eagles forced Temple into it, or because Temple made it look that way.

But which is it? Who's lying?

Make up your own mind on that one. I do know one thing for sure. I'm going to ask Theobald how we can get some reaction on the Jackson thing. The man gets results.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


www.inquirer.com/

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