Mar 7, 2012, 9:29 PM EDT
As former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue once told Big East commissioner John Marinatto: “Rivalries are what people really want to see.”
It may have only been a press conference where representatives from Temple and Villanova gathered to say nice things about each other, but their past, present and future rivalry was on full display Wednesday night. And in that sense, even though the final announcement was as public as possible, one could get the sense in watching that Temple’s addition to the Big East was something of a series of “diner deals” from the start (don’t worry, we’ll explain later).
First, the basics. Temple has accepted an all-sports invitation to join the Big East. Owls football will begin conference play next season, while all other sports will join in the 2013-2014 academic year. As part of the invitation from the Big East to Temple, the conference will be footing the bill for half of Temple’s $6 million exit fee from the Mid-Atlantic conference and providing an interest-free loan to the university for the remaining $3 million, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Michael Bradley.
Now, the juicy parts. The Chairman of the TU Board of Trustees’ Athletic Committee, Lewis Katz, said on Wednesday night that “Everything you’ve heard about Temple and Villanova is accurate.” We fully believe that.
It was reported in the fall of 2011, when the Temple-to-the-Big-East reports were first heating up, that Villanova stood strongly opposed to the Owls joining the Big East. It was even alleged that Villanova used its influence to block the Owls from joining the conference as part of its initial expansion that welcomed Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida and Southern Methodist.
Perhaps that’s why the conference felt it important to include Villanova president Fr. Peter Donahue in the Wednesday evening press conference and to make it clear that it was Villanova who made the motion (seconded by Rick Pitino’s Louisville) to admit Temple. From there, a press conference meant to announce Temple’s addition began like a public address about the state of Villanova athletics, specifically football.
John Marinatto opened the proceedings by thanking Villanova for “taking the lead” in the conference’s expansion talks and for its cooperation in overcoming any potential conflicts — conflicts related to Temple University. Despite Donahue’s words that the expansion was “good for the Big East, Villanova and Temple,” those conflicts run deep enough that Marinatto would later announce the conference’s decision to hire an outside consultant to identify how both institutions will “maintain their unique identities” while simultaneously receiving the full benefits of their membership in a shared market.
First off, we give a legitimate hat tip to the Big East. Their inclusion of Donahue in the press conference was a fantastic way to promote the public image that all three entities — Temple, Villanova and the Big East — are all working in harmony and are pleased to be together. We were pleasantly surprised by the late-breaking news that ‘Nova would be represented at the press conference and were impressed that the conference’s public relations arm had the foresight to put representatives from both schools in the same room as quickly as possible.
That said, the carry-over of the negative publicity from the fall was in no way invalidated by the shared stage. If anything, it now seems legitimized by the very fact that Donahue was there, as those reports, regardless of their accuracy or inaccuracy, necessitated his presence.
On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Villanova voicing an opposition to sharing a market with Temple. They, the Villanova Board of Directors, have very real economic concerns regarding the move and have no reason to be excited by the addition of Temple for reasons other than how such a move might ultimately benefit the Wildcat athletic program. Be clear, that is the job of the Villanova board and athletic department: to do what is best for Villanova University. Their concerns are not for the advancement of Temple.
On the other hand, Wednesday night’s press conference gave off a certain “we (Villanova) were brought to this kicking and screaming and held out for as long as humanly possible” vibe that felt awkwardly and uncomfortably distracting.
To return to Katz’s statement about “everything you’ve heard” being “accurate,” it’s tough to tell what he really meant. Presumably, he meant that Donahue and Marinatto’s comments about Villanova’s cooperation were true (Donahue even told a lengthy anecdote and a joint storm-water sustainability project conducted by the engineering departments of Temple and Villanova to illustrate how the schools have worked together in the past.). But it was Katz’s first statement that was in many ways the most revealing, and that worked to color all of his comments moving forward, when he thanked Villanova and the conference with a smile for their acceptance after taking “all the time they needed.”
What Villanova received in taking that time was a “vote of confidence” and a financial commitment from the conference to further explore Villanova’s potential FBS expansion. What exactly that means — who knows? To borrow from an oft-used colloquialism: “you give a little, and you get a little.”
And it’s tough to say what specifically Villanova “got.” Marinatto and Donahue both denied that Villanova received any sort of monetary compensation for welcoming an institution just 12 miles from their own campus; and though Marinatto did say the Big East would ultimately look for a 14th football-playing partner once the conference signs a new television deal, he made mention that it would be the conference’s preference to find a Western partner to begin to alleviate some of the travel difficulties of their new non-Eastern members.
In the sense that Villanova “gave,” it doesn’t seem it had much of an option. In short, the Big East needed Temple. The conference had an immediate scheduling hole to fill after West Virginia opted to pay $20 million dollars to exit early and Temple was one of most viable football programs left on the market.
Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw was quick to quell talk that the move was strictly about filling an immediate need for the Big East, citing what Temple brings to the conference, like it’s 160,000 alumni who live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We’ll add that the school brings a renewed commitment to a resurgent football program and a basketball program that has been ranked in the Top 25 in the nation the past three seasons and is about to make it’s fifth-consecutive Atlantic 10 tournament. Temple basketball will by no means replace a Pitt, Syracuse or West Virginia, but will strongly supplement the remaining basketball schools and add an increased viability moving forward. If that last bit about the “increased viability” is in some way unbelievable, then just check with Rick Pitino, who has been publicly campaigning for the Big East’s addition of Temple for those very same reasons for months and consider why any coach would be that vocal about such a specific candidate for expansion. Temple, in a number of different ways, is good for the conference.
In that same vein, consider why Villanova was so reportedly opposed. It isn’t just a matter of picking one football program over another. Nor is it only a matter of one school previously having a monopoly on home games versus schools like Connecticut and Georgetown. It’s also about the success of the individual programs on the court and/or field. Temple just completed construction on a brand new state-of-the-art basketball practice facility as part of an ongoing $58 million renovation of Pearson and McGonigle Halls. They are in the process of a $9 million expansion of their on-campus Edberg-Olson football complex. Before, Villanova could poach mutually-desired basketball recruits by dangling the bright lights and big stages of the Big East relative to the Atlantic 10. But now, with both schools sharing the same conference schedule, and Temple making these improvements to its own facilities, recruiting will be conducted on an even playing field. The advantage could even swing in Temple’s favor.
With all that mind, we shouldn’t downplay the aforementioned monopoly of Big East home games, as it is one of the key reasons the conference will be forced to hire an outside consultant to ensure these schools cohabitate. Following the litany of opening statements, a question was posed to the entire panel about Temple potentially using the Wells Fargo Center for more of its basketball home games, as it did with Duke earlier this season and as Villanova does for multiple home games every season. Katz responded that Temple was quite fond of both the Liacouras Center and Wells Fargo Center and would be interested in using the latter more often. It should come as little surprise that commissioner Marinatto then immediately lauded then Liacouras Center and reiterated multiple times that the conference will do its best to stick with the set practices both the schools and their now-shared conference have previously exercised.
To translate: both of these schools will want the largest gates possible and it is going to be difficult to come to an agreement about whether only one or both gets to play their biggest games in a 20,000-seat arena, and it, like a whole host of other issues, could become a point of contention.
After all, that’s why they hired a consultant. And in a sense, that’s all you need to know. There are very real conflicts between Temple and Villanova that made their move to the Big East all the more complicated and will continue to present difficulties moving forward. But once those difficulties are ironed out (or even before), there is little denying that Temple brings with it qualities that benefit the Big East, benefits strong enough that Villanova accepted this deal in the broader interests of its conference, even if those qualities conflict with the school’s narrower self-interest.
Now, before we close, a brief story as told by Bradshaw. The Temple AD revealed Wednesday that he first met Marinatto in a diner on the New Jersey-New York border 16 months ago, prior to former attending a Temple game at Army and the latter a contest at Rutgers. It was there the two first shared their mutual interest in one another. They met in such a clandestine location, as Bradshaw admitted, for the obvious reason that it wouldn’t draw much attention. Such a start to this renewed relationship now seems fitting. From an initial meeting at an off-the-beaten-path diner to the alleged behind-closed-doors opposition from, and eventual cojoling of, Villanova, this partnership seems more or less, as we said at the outset, like a series of a diner deals that have brought together three simultaneously willing and unwilling partners.
There were problems before the deal, there were problems during the deal, and there will no doubt be problems after the deal — so God Bless whomever inherits that consulting job.
Temple and Villanova played nice Wednesday night. It was the only thing they could do, the only decision that made sense and the only decision that will make sense in the future. Temple is back in the Big East, meaning the three partners who took the stage on Wednesday – the two schools and their shared conference — will have to continue to act like friends. Whether or not that’s really the case is no longer relevant, because their now-common interests mean they need each other.
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