When some media outlets were reporting that Temple would be invited to the Big East conference earlier this fall, Owls fans got their hopes up. When those reports turned out to be all smoke and no fire, Owls fans were disappointed. When other reports tried to place the blame for Temple being left out of the plan on Villanova, Owls fans became angry.
Some New Jersey and New York papers reported that Villanova blocked or opposed a proposed bid for Temple University to join the Big East conference. One report even described the opposition as insulting the Owls programs. Many Temple fans believe that their program had a right to be included in Big East expansion — that they should have been included.
Their anger is directed, predictably, at Villanova, a fact that was more than made clear by the roll-out signs created by the student section at Saturday's game.
Commentators seeking to stir the pot have suggested, and many fans believe, that Temple fans are right to be angry with Villanova. That regardless of what actually occurred, the fact that Villanova didn't support Temple's bid is a crime against the sport, or at least against the Big 5 and the City of Philadelphia. What would it take for things to be right? Would Villanova have to loudly and publicly campaign for their neighbors to show the proper respects.
What EXACTLY did Villanova do?
To start at the top, Villanova administrators haven't ever denied that they were against Temple joining the Big East in basketball. Jay Wright may not have directly addressed the issue, but his comments at Big East basketball media day made it pretty clear: Villanova has to take care of Villanova. Wright also suggested that Villanova would be much more amenable to the idea of sharing Philadelphia if the football program were given the green light to move into the Big East as part of the deal.
The flames of Temple's current angst were lit by a mid-October piece in the New York Post by Lenn Robins, claiming that a phone call during the early phases of the Big East rebuilding, "deteriorated into 'Nova bashing Temple rather than making a strong case for the league to consider the Wildcats' potential in football."
Villanova sources later denied that report and John Marinatto, who was supposedly the recipient of that phone call, placed an unsolicited call to the Philadelphia Inquirer to make clear that the Wildcat administrators had said nothing disparaging about their Big 5 rivals. Temple fans, preferring to believe the earlier report have chosen to disregard the Big East commissioner's words as lies or public relations.
What would Marinatto's motivation be for making that call? Would helping Nova look nicer really help the Big East? And how credible is Lenn Robbins to begin with? Isn't he the same reporter who claimed that Missouri would prefer the Big East to the SEC? Who is Lenn Robbins' source, and what would their motive be in sharing a story about Villanova?
The internal politics of the Big East are a mystery. For every story you might hear saying one thing, there is a second story telling the opposite.
A Newark Star-Ledger report claimed that Villanova blocked Temple's membership through a voting bloc of the non-football members of the conference. It is unlikely that any discussion of Temple got so far as a vote or even serious consideration, however. In fact, according to a more recent story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it would seem that there is significant support for Temple's all-sports bid to join the conference among the non-football members.
Those same non-football members have also reportedly presented some opposition to Villanova's own hopes of becoming a Big East football school.
Would Villanova even have enough votes among the basketball schools to block anyone?
So Why Oppose Temple?
Villanova has to oppose Temple for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, Villanova has to be concerned about the bottom line when it comes to athletics. Basketball has been a profitable program in recent years and that profit helps fund the athletics programs that don't generate as much revenue.
Television money is part of the equation, but not all of it. Villanova gets around $2 million per year from the Big East's television deal. The rest of the $7-8 million dollars in revenue come from local sources, including a very good amount from ticket sales. Those tickets are sold to Villanova alums, to fans, and to people who are just interested in seeing some of the major opponents that the Wildcats bring to the Wells Fargo Center every season.
At all times, but especially in a rough economy, Villanova competes with the professional sports franchises in Philadelphia, as well as the other colleges, for fan dollars. A casual fan may only have $X to spend on sporting events in any given year, so they are forced to choose between Villanova's product and the other city sports offerings. Villanova has done rather well going up against the NBA and NHL franchises, and can likely thank the Big East affiliation and ESPN marketing for that position.
What would happen, however, if another school in the city were able to offer high-major college basketball games to local fans? If another school in the city were able to offer Georgetown, St. Johns and Louisville as visitors in their arena? Villanova would lose its biggest advantage in the marketplace, and in trying to sell tickets in the cavernous Wells Fargo Center, may even have to slash prices to compete.
Others might argue that Villanova can and should be able to succeed in that scenario. In fact, they might, but it is less than success while operating with an advantage. Villanova isn't a state school that can get more money from the legislature if they make a poor decision, or a school with a $5 billion endowment to soften the blow.
Even though Duke and UNC manage to coexist in close proximity, that situation doesn't necessarily apply to Villanova. The Tobacco Road schools joined the ACC when it formed in 1953, well before television money and luxury suites changed the face of college sports. Both of those schools are blue blood programs with multiple national championships and a nationwide fan base — which neither Philadelphia school has. More importantly, there really isn't any major professional sports team on Tobacco Road providing competition for fan dollars for either school. Villanova and Temple have local or regional fan bases, they compete with 5 major sports franchises and 5 other Division 1 universities and they haven't had 58 years to figure out how to co-exist in the same conference.
Villanova would be irresponsible to take such a risk without receiving something of value in return.
That, exactly, is the second point: Villanova has to oppose Temple because that opposition gives them some leverage with the Big East. If the conference desperately wants to add Temple, doing so over Villanova's legitimate financial concerns could present some difficulties.
With the potential that a move would harm a current conference member financially, the conference would likely want to sway that member into approving of the deal. That means that Villanova could potentially use the situation to ensure that the football program would be able to join the Big East conference as well.
Villanova also has to hope that the conference maintains some level of football status (to stabilize that portion of the membership) and increases the amount of money generated for basketball. Villanova would clearly be against any additions that failed to do that.
For football, there is no expansion scenario where Temple added more value on the gridiron than Boise State, a perennial top-10 program. UCF, Houston and SMU are arguably equal to or greater than Temple in football brand name, and all have had success on the field in a conference considered tougher than the MAC.
Most important, however, was (and still is) building a western football division to accommodate travel and make the addition of Boise State more logistically and financially sound. San Diego State is comparable to Temple in football success (and really has had less success over the past few years), but their addition allowed the football schools to bring Boise State's credibility into the fold.
With Air Force declining to join, the Big East will continue to search for additional western schools to add.
Does Villanova even have a say in this?
There is no Big East bylaw or rule that would allow Villanova's singular objections to hold the conference back from inviting anyone. The only rule is that 75% of full members present at a meeting have to vote in favor of the addition for an invitation to be issued — that means 10 of the current 13 members are needed.
The basketball schools are reportedly not supporting Villanova's desire to keep Temple out of the conference. In fact, if Mike Jensen's report is correct, those non-football members are in favor of Temple joining.
Expansion, however, is football-driven. Certainly for the moment, and likely for the rest of the existence of major college sports. In the Big East, that means that the football members and their interests take precedence over almost everything else. Some concessions will obviously be made to basketball, but nobody can deny that the additions of Houston, SMU and UCF in all-sports were made for the benefit of football.
Does Villanova wield some influence? Maybe, but football and the almighty dollar had to come first, and the football schools concocted a rebuilding plan designed to create what they hope is the most favorable conference structure for football. If Villanova's opposition to Temple were going to cost the league in revenue or football prestige, it would have been dealt with.
What it boils down to is a sense of entitlement. Temple has had a strong basketball program for about as long as most people can remember. The Owls, unlike other programs outside the major conferences, have few issues getting big-brand programs to come to Philadelphia in home-and-home arrangements.
Temple football is having winning seasons for the first time in a long time too. Things have rarely been this good for the North Philly university.
It is only natural for a fan to be invested in the idea of joining a bigger, more prestigious league, when their name began being mentioned as a potential Big East addition. Was it ever real though?
The media has pushed the idea of both Temple and Memphis as Big East additions because both schools offer traditionally-strong basketball programs that seem like a natural fit in a conference known for it's basketball power. The Big East has seemed significantly less interested in both options — though there has been notably more smoke about Temple as a back-up option (but how far back on the list are they, really?).
That smoke has given the Temple fan base a sense of entitlement. They feel like they were robbed of a Big East bid that they were owed. The facts, however, remain unchanged — as a full member of the Big East since 1980, Villanova has a right to be in the conference (members are essentially the "owners" of the conference), Temple does not.
So what of the Big 5?
Temple fans calling for the end of the Big 5 and a policy of dropping Villanova from future schedules are short-sighted. The Big 5 rivalry benefits both universities, but Temple is slightly better off because of it.
The benefit of the game is that it is a tough opponent for both schools and usually one that will add to the RPI rating of both at the end of a season. It is also a television game that is regularly picked up by ESPN or ESPN2, showcasing the schools to a national audience (and causing an extra check to be cut in the process). All of that comes with minimal travel, less than 20 miles separate the schools, and minimal expense.
For Villanova, it would be inconvenient to lose that game, but another marquee non-conference game could likely be arranged to achieve the same benefits. Temple could schedule another opponent as well, but unless Drexel becomes a national powerhouse, they will have to travel to do so.
Unlike Villanova, Temple doesn't generate as much revenue from basketball, and doesn't generate a profit from the sport. While additional travel would cost both schools, it won't likely put Villanova's program into the red. For Temple, it will only increase the deficit. It is a lot more cost-effective in an era of tightening government budgets for Temple to play a cross-town opponent than to have to travel a thousand miles or more for a game.
Is Temple REALLY blocked? Is there a point to this?
Based on what we know, there is nothing actually blocking Temple from joining the conference. Villanova would prefer that not happen, but the Nova administration can be overruled on the issue and almost certainly could be convinced.
The Inquirer, CBS, ESPN and other outlets continue to report that the Big East might consider Temple again in the future. They also might consider Villanova. Eastern expansion was not a priority and won't be a possibility until western expansion is complete.
There are more than a few schools that could become options in the future and more than a few that were discussed and then discarded. UCF was discussed by Big East officials as a candidate to replace Miami, but ultimately was tossed out in favor of USF. Now both schools will be Big East members.
Temple was pushed aside because in a world where the Belk Bowl draws bigger television ratings than even the most desirable regular-season college basketball games, the need to add major football clout took the Big East westward.
Villanova officials have repeatedly talked about the current round of Big East expansion as, "things above us settling." Those words don't inspire visions of Fr. Donohue and Vince Nicastro as puppet masters pulling the strings.
Temple fans believe they are entitled to a spot in the Big East. They don't care what impact that could have on the long-term financial health of the Villanova programs. It is a purely selfish desire on the part of Temple fans, which is fine, because Villanova (like everyone else) is looking out for themselves these days.