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Athletic Supporters: Temple v. Maryland off the Court and in the Stands

Jan 21, 2012, 7:35 PM EDT

On the court, the Temple Owls have no reason to Fear the Turtle; but off it, they have every reason to envy the supportive culture which surrounds the Maryland Terrapins.

For Nick Menta’s recap of Temple’s 73-60 win over Maryland on Saturday, click here.

Make it a clean sweep for the Temple University Owls over Maryland Terrapins, with decisive victories on both the football field and the basketball court within the last four months.

Maryland, best known recently as Under Armour’s attempted equivalent to Nike’s Oregon, is now 0-3 against Temple over the last two years, counting their Dec. 2010 basketball loss to the Owls in addition to the two games mentioned above.

And while these two programs are surely differentiable on the scoreboard when pitted head-to-head, they’re differentiated in other ways off of it — and in ways far less flattering for Temple.

For much of the early going on Saturday, it appeared as though Maryland had actually outdrawn Temple in a building approximately two hours from their College Park campus, a building just a brief subway ride from Temple’s personal SEPTA stop at Broad and Cecil B Moore.

Finally, at the beginning of the second half, the corners of Temple’s section of the Palestra filled in to solidify the sell out. There are myriad of potential reasons for the late-arriving crowd, with Saturday morning’s troublesome snow storm at the very top of the list.

Nonetheless, the trademark Maryland “OH!” during the national anthem — which the anthemist handled flawlessly, by the way — was a jarring reminder of how far Temple still has to come when it comes to drawing a major — and not mid-major — fan base.

Really, there are very few schools in this country who can claim a prouder basketball tradition than Temple (The Owls’ boast the sixth most wins Division I Men’s Basketball history). Still, the school seems to have issues drawing on its own.

Sure, it makes sense that the Owls’ biggest crowds come against their strongest opponents and their local rivals, but the drop off from Temple and Duke to Temple and the average opponent is sharper than it should be.

For reference, Temple basketball finished 90th in the nation in average attendance in 2011, drawing 5,925 per game. That number was good enough fifth in the Atlantic 10 and represents just under 60% of the Liacouras Center’s total capacity for basketball.

By comparison, the Maryland Terrapins of the ACC finished 14th in the nation, drawing over 14,000 per game.

I will preface with the following concessions. First, of course Maryland is going to outdraw Temple as a result of the disparities between the ACC and A10 schedules. Second, of the four A10 schools to outdraw Temple in 2011 — Dayton, Xavier, Charlotte and Richmond — there is no immediate, or at least only one, other basketball alternative in the market.

But let’s be honest, the basketball alternatives in the city of Philadelphia really shouldn’t be an obstacle for the Owls. Temple University boasts a full student body of 37,000. The school has an alumni base of more than 250,000, many of whom still reside in the city limits or its immediate suburbs.

Moreover, Temple has consistently ranked within the Top 25 in the nation over the past three seasons, and has made four straight NCAA tournament appearances. They are, at minimum, a Top 30 program. They only happen to draw like a school who just manages to squeak into the NIT each season.

Temple has the student body and alumni base to rival almost any Division I institution, but generally lacks a unifying campus culture. As the school becomes increasingly residential and less commuter-driven in the coming years, perhaps the culture will change — or, in this case, form. Maybe a greater pride or the university and its athletic programs — a pride common in so many other major universities, like Maryland — will spring forth.

But in the meantime, the Temple athletic department will be forced to soldier on with a major college program represented by a mid-major fan base. Temple can continue to beat the best in the nation — knocking off four AP Top 10 programs in the last four seasons and going 5-1 against the Big East and ACC combined over the last two years — but it won’t be their on-the-floor resume that’s bumps them to a bigger, better conference any time soon. On that front, they’ll need their student body and alumni to start supporting both the football and basketball programs in greater numbers.

On the court, the Owls have no reason to Fear the Turtle; but off it, they have every reason to envy the supportive culture which surrounds the Maryland Terrapins.