In March, Theobald told a group of mostly African-American community activists that he’s never been invited to Temple’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, despite it being located a floor below his office in Sullivan Hall.
More recently, Theobald claimed the Philadelphia Eagles want to double the cost of renting Lincoln Financial Field for football games and want $12 million upfront, a claim the Eagles have rebutted.
Most of all, Theobald and other administrators, specifically Athletic Director Kevin Clark, have botched the rollout of their decision last December to eliminate seven non-revenue sports.
In announcing the cuts to the affected student-athletes, Clark read a statement off a piece of paper and was gone within five minutes. Three days before, Robert Morris’ athletic director, Craig Coleman, announced the elimination of seven varsity sports at the Pittsburgh, Pa., school. Coleman made the announcement and then answered questions from student-athletes for 45 minutes.
Apart from a closed press conference on the day of the cuts that only five media outlets – including The Temple News – were invited to, Clark has not addressed the decision publicly and all further requests for comment have been denied. It seems the athletic department is taking the stance that the decision is final and there’s nothing more to be said.
As a senior who has closely followed Temple sports – revenue and non-revenue – for the past four years, the handling of the situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Any program a school offers, including Division I sports, should be primarily focused on fostering the personal growth of its members. While the cuts were best for business, the administrators should have handled it more personally with the affected student-athletes.
There are plenty of questions that haven’t been answered. The administration said the cuts, which have since been reduced to five sports, will save between $2 million and $2.5 million. That’s a lot of money on its own, but it’s only 5 or 6 percent of the overall athletic budget. Why can’t the administration be more specific as to why they think the money saved was worth it?
Clark said the money left over from the cuts will be reinvested in the remaining programs. Apart from denying that the money will go to the football team, he hasn’t specified where that money will go. There has been some public backlash at the football team, blaming the program, not a historically successful one, for the cuts.
It’s true that Temple wouldn’t be so far behind in spending if it had stayed in the Atlantic 10 Conference for most of the sports. That doesn’t mean the move to The American was a bad decision. The administration rightly wants to invest in the football program.
Despite Temple football’s bad reputation, the program can become a winner in the span of a few years. Duke football had three winning seasons in the 30 years before this past season. In 2013, the Blue Devils set a program record for wins in a season, going 10-4, and went to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Twenty years ago, Boise State wasn’t in Division I. Now the Broncos are widely known, due to undefeated seasons, a miraculous Fiesta Bowl hook-and-ladder and a postgame marriage proposal.
While it may seem improbable, the Owls could get to that point in a few years. They have a young quarterback with upside in P.J. Walker, the leading solo tackler in the nation in Tyler Matakevich and one of, if not the best incoming recruiting class in program history.
The idea that money invested in football will turn out to be a sunk cost is unfair. But the university’s steadfast refusal to address the connection of the cuts and the football team has not helped.
Why won’t Theobald or Clark say publicly that the university wants to invest in its football team and explain why they think that’s the right move? Why are they grappling with the Eagles over a number that may have been made up?
Perhaps they’re afraid of talking themselves into a hole. But their silence has already gotten them halfway to China.
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.