Owls ready to get kicked out of Big East nest
Oct. 7, 2004
SportsLine.com wire reports
PHILADELHPIA -- Temple's futility is startling even by the most awful standards.
There are the 13 consecutive losing seasons, no bowl games since 1979, six one-win seasons in the last 15 years and five times since 1992 the Owls failed to win a conference game. The Owls spent most of the last two decades without a permanent home and crowds were as sparse as the victories.
It gets worse.
Big East teams decided it was no longer worth the automatic win to keep the Owls around. The conference gave the Owls a shove out of the nest and told them to look elsewhere to get kicked around.
That was in March 2001. Time has run out for the Owls who start their final Big East season Saturday against Pittsburgh. Even a conference that only months ago was fighting for teams to stay wouldn't give the Owls another chance.
The Owls are now looking for a home.
"Temple may have been the only D-I member ever ousted from a league," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said.
The Owls now face life as an independent, if the program even stays around at all. Temple created a task force examining the viability of all its teams, with football -- for once -- on top.
The reason for the eviction: The Owls didn't meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team. Plus, Temple never had all its teams in the Big East, including men and women's basketball which plays in the Atlantic 10.
"We have to make an honest evaluation of where we want to be and if we're willing to make the commitments necessary to do that," said Bradshaw, who was not the AD at the time Temple was axed from the Big East.
Temple tried to spruce up the program. The Owls built a state of the art practice facility at their north campus that opened in 2001 and reached a deal last year with the Philadelphia Eagles to play all home games at Lincoln Financial Field.
Attendance has always been a problem and playing in an NFL stadium was supposed to be a draw.
Instead, the Owls were 85th in the country last year out of 117 Division I teams. Still, it was better than in 2001 when they were 94th out of 115 teams.
The record certainly hasn't helped.
The Owls haven't had a winning record since they went 7-4 under Jerry Berndt in 1990 and had only one winning season in the 1980s (6-5, 1984). The Owls failed to win a game in 1986 and are 1-4 this year, including a 70-16 loss last week at home to Bowling Green.
It was one of many humbling and disheartening games for Bobby Wallace, who's coached the Owls since 1998. Wallace has never won more than four games and had only 18 overall entering Saturday.
"I felt if we came in and got the job done it would be a great accomplishment," Wallace said.
But Wallace acknowledges getting booted was a blow to Temple's recruiting and self-esteem. So Wallace turned to junior college players, selling them on the fact that they could play in an NFL stadium and in the Big East for at least two years.
As for high school prospects, Wallace admits the Owls are often going after kids with few scholarship offers.
With one more year left on his contract, Wallace needs a miraculous turnaround to get another. Still, Bradshaw is pleased with how Wallace has handled daunting circumstances.
Temple senior linebacker Troy Bennett said the future could be bleak without conference affiliation.
"I'm pretty sure it'll be tough for the guys that are here from years to come," Bennett said. "Friends and family will be asking them what conference they're going to, what's going on. I'm sure there will be guys thinking, why come to Temple if they can't play in a conference."
All of it has led to speculation that Temple should drop down a level or abolish the program. While Bradshaw refuses to acknowledge the program is on life support, he knows there could be changes.
"I don't believe we should continue in anything where we can't be successfully competitive," Bradshaw said. "We need to decide if we can continue to support the program. We need to see if it makes dollars and sense."
Temple hoped for a reprieve when Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami bolted last year for the ACC. Instead, the Owls were never given a second look.
"It is very difficult not knowing where the future lies," Wallace said.
Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese declined comment for this story, though he said last November that Temple's situation was not revisited because conference school presidents didn't want football-only members.
Bradshaw said there have been talks with other conferences, some that want Temple football only and some that want all of Temple's teams. Bradshaw said he would consider the options, but wasn't interested in putting the Owls in a league several zip codes and time zones away.
Wallace said Temple can't survive more than a couple of seasons as an independent, though an ambitious schedule is already in place for next season, including seven home games.
"If you could put Temple in the right situation in Division I-A, I don't know why it couldn't be successful," Wallace said. "We just haven't been able to get there. We're still looking for that magical year."