The Ceiling of a Mid-Major
In 2014, Temple University cut seven sports. Those sports were baseball, softball, men’s and women’s rowing, men’s gymnastics, men’s indoor track and field and men’s outdoor track and field. Temple spokesperson Larry Dougherty explained, “We were not able to give the quality of student athlete care that we would like to have for a Division 1 athletic program with this amount of sports being sponsored.” But many students believed that the move was to give more money to major sports like football and basketball. Soon after the decision, Temple announced the University will be building an on-campus stadium for the football team.
Temple has always been revered as a basketball school. It is often in the NCAA tournament and is a school with some of the most wins in Division I NCAA men’s basketball history. Football however, hasn’t been as successful. But within the last couple of years they began to take that next step in their program.
In 2016, Temple University was #13 on Bleacher report’s 2016 list of “Top 25 Colleges with the best Football and Basketball Team Combos.” With a 2016 American Athletic Conference title and the construction of a new stadium underway, everything seems to be looking up for the Owls. The question is how far up can they go?
Over the past 10 years Temple has had three football coaches. All of them brought success and then left for “greener” pastures. A common practice in mid-major conferences that can’t afford to compete with Major schools once they have an eye on a trending coach. What I find to be most surprising is that besides Al Golden’s move to the University of Miami, a historically great football program, the other coaches left for situations you could argue aren’t much better than Temple’s.
Steve Addazio left Temple for Boston College, sure he may have gotten paid more but they are a consistent bottom-feeder in the ACC. Matt Rhule, the most recent coach to leave Temple, probably stung Temple fans and players the most. He was vocal about how much he loved Temple and wanted to continue to grow the culture. But, after winning the AAC Championship he announced that he would be leaving for Baylor University. As other coaches do, he left immediately and did not coach the Owls in their bowl game. The Owls ended up losing to a Wake Forest team that many people didn’t even think should be playing Temple. Yes, Baylor has been extremely successful in the recent past on the football field, but because of numerous rape allegations and other issues off the field, Baylor has to continue to look over their shoulder in hopes that the NCAA doesn’t ban them from the post season. Rhule must have had some idea of what he was getting into yet still found it to be more appealing than staying in Philadelphia. Sure he got paid, but it will be hard to continue his climb up the ladder with the possibilities of no post season, looming allegations, and the inevitable hit Baylor will take in recruiting.
Now Temple has hired Geoff Collins, who was previously the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida and Mississippi State. After being in the bright lights of the SEC, does anyone really think that after a couple years of success at Temple he won’t be looking for the next step in his career? When Temple decided to go all in with football and basketball what did they actually think their ceiling was? Is the athletic program happy with being a stepping stone and if so, was that worth ending the historic runs of seven athletic programs? I’m not sure which is worse, thinking they can become something they are not, or knowing the ceiling wasn’t that high but still preferring that over a more diverse sports program.
As stated earlier, Temple is experiencing the same problems that many mid-majors have. The Houston Cougars had a historic football season and all they have to show for it is their coach leaving for the University of Texas. The only difference is that Houston did not have to cut seven programs to reach their possible ceiling. Assuming much of that decision is based on funding, I know many Alumni that will not give to Temple because of what happened in 2014, believing that the decision was made in haste and handled poorly.
Will the on-campus field help in recruiting and building the football culture? Yes, but will Temple ever be National Champions? As an Alum I sure hope so, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.