Temple Sports Cuts Sure Seem to Be About Football

Attract fans and win games, or end the madness. The clock is ticking.

Let’s start with Temple’s premise that the cutting of seven sports from the athletic department roster had nothing to do with football. That’s what the folks on North Broad Street are saying, and there might be some truth to that. The Owls’ program is not an example of opulence gone wild, even though it is most certainly not a profitable enterprise. There are some other issues at work, too, most notably Title IX considerations.

The argument breaks down — falls apart completely, actually — when one considers the company Temple is keeping. That’s where the influence of football and its damaging effects come into play. Because the Owls fought so hard to join the pre-implosion Big East, and because the old Big East’s current football iteration only exists in a version that appears more like a Conference USA spinoff than a major confederation, the Owls doomed their other sports (even, to an extent, the men’s basketball program) to membership in a league that doesn’t suit and actually hurts them.

Because of that, the football program must now justify its very existence, not because it has become a colossal financial burden itself, but because its need for a home has placed the rest of Temple’s sports in jeopardy. Baseball, softball, men’s and women’s crew, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track are gone, as of June. The remaining programs are lumped together with a bunch of schools that have incongruous missions and some shady reputations.

So, Temple football, you have three seasons to prove that you are viable, capable of generating interest and, frankly, worth even a dollar that is spent on you, or it’s your turn to have your helmeted head lopped off by the guillotine. Asking a field hockey or soccer team to play at Tulane or Tulsa is crazy. Forcing the men’s basketball team to play against schools like Memphis and Cincinnati, which have histories of some sketchy dealings in the recruiting world, just isn’t right. But since football “drives the train,” as people are fond of saying, the rest of the athletic department has to hop aboard, even if the engineer doesn’t quite know where he’s going.

If the school’s board of trustees and athletic administration had any sense, they would have responded to last year’s Big East breakup by getting out of the football business and doing everything possible to get back into the Atlantic 10. That way, it wouldn’t be facing onerous road trips (except for St. Louis) and competition with schools that don’t match its personality.

I would imagine this isn’t going to be a very popular stance with both the school and its alumni/fan constituencies. But, if anybody who is unhappy about the proposal were truly honest, he would admit the program is gasping. It’s bad enough that the team finished 2-10 this year, but posting a mere four winning records in the last 27 seasons should be an indication that things aren’t working too well on the gridiron. Add in the fact that fans aren’t exactly flocking to the Linc to watch the Owls stagger through the year, and you have all the evidence you need to call for an end to the madness.

Temple seemed to have some creative approaches to attendance figures throughout the 2013 season. Granted, it wasn’t as bad as the Dark Days at the Vet, when a crowd of 2,500 was magically transformed into 13,000 in the official boxscore. But saying 20,045 people watched the game with Connecticut on Nov. 23 required some of that “new math” that my father used to grouse about back in the ’70s. The pipe dream that Temple is going to capture the hearts of football fans throughout the region by tearing through a schedule that includes Tulsa, East Carolina and SMU is as unrealistic as former president Peter Liacouras’ 1982 proclamation that the school would be playing in the Sugar Bowl “by 1985.”

Don’t mistake this as an old-fashioned screed against Temple football, the kind that has been delivered almost annually for the past 30 years. This is 21st century logic and is driven by the program’s leading the entire athletic department into a predicament that has resulted in the removal of seven programs and a considerable strain on the others. If the Owls are going to continue to play football, they must begin to attract fans and win games. NC2A athletics are about football first, but when a football program is losing money every year and forcing the rest of the athletic program to be compromised by its inconvenient home, then it’s time to reassess whether football should be around at all, much less first on the menu.

Seven Temple sports are gone, but football remains. It’s time to hold the program to the same standard that was applied in the removal of the others.

Sucker Punches

• That was some performance by the Eagles at the snowy Linc Sunday. Give credit to coach Chip Kelly for switching to a ground-based attack in the second half and to LeSean McCoy for tearing through the soft Lions’ defense. Most impressive was how the offensive line dominated Detroit coach Jim Washburn’s wide-nine configuration. Maybe Washburn has a comfortable meeting room and is free to make fun of all of his fellow coaches in the Motor City, but his D-line configuration still doesn’t work.

• Here’s hoping the vultures aren’t circling U.S. soccer this summer after the national team is swept away in World Cup group play. The national side has been placed in a quartet with Germany, Portugal and Ghana, a brutal fate. Should the Americans fail to reach the next round, it isn’t an indictment of the sport in the country, rather the by-product of a tough field top-to-bottom and an unfortunate draw.

• Hats off to the city’s Hysterical Weather Machine, which after scaring the hell out of people last year with over-the-top snow forecasts that never materialized, didn’t see yesterday’s storm coming. As a result, hundreds of thousands were stranded or highly inconvenienced. To recap: The HWM is 0-for-1 this year but hopes to make up for the slow start by overhyping future snowfalls, the better to sell advertising and generate viewership.