Sports

Watching over the transition

Newly-appointed Athletic Director Pat Kraft updated The Temple News on the status of the university’s athletic department Oct. 14.

Pat Kraft took a seat behind his new desk for the first time and was overwhelmed with emotion. The former deputy director of athletics looked at the cherry and white walls that made up his new office as the university’s athletic director thought of his father, who died two years ago.

“I had that moment where I was like, ‘My goals are to be there and be where I am now,’” Kraft said. “I had that zen moment, and I thought about my dad, and I’m going to do what’s right. I’m going to be me.”

Kraft replaced Kevin Clark, who was named executive vice president and chief operating officer in May after two years as the head of athletics. Both came to Temple from Indiana University, where President Theobald was formerly a senior vice president.

“It’s a lot of responsibility. … But you groom yourself for a position,” Kraft said. “I’m fortunate to have really good people around me, so it makes that easier.”

Now five months into the job, Kraft sat down with The Temple News Oct. 14 to discuss the state of athletics at the university and plans for the future.

“They’re students”

When Pat Kraft was an undergraduate student-athlete at Indiana, his education was enough for him.

Kraft, who played football at his alma mater, told The Temple News while he’s against paying student-athletes, compensation to provide for what student-athletes “need” is acceptable.

“I’m not in support of paying athletes,” Kraft said. “ I got my degree paid for, and I am in support of supporting them, though. … So I am in support of giving them the resources they need.”

All full-scholarship athletes on Temple’s 19 Division I sports receive $2,500 in cost-of-attendance stipend that provides funding to help pay the costs of living on a college campus. The funds are intended to cover costs apart from the athlete’s full scholarship.

At a public meeting of the Board of Trustees’ Athletics Committee Oct. 12, Kraft said the university’s cost-of-attendance stipend is not the maximum the department could provide to its athletes. He told the trustees the low amount preserves the department’s ability to call on the NCAA “student aid fund” for student-athletes who have emergency situations.

“They’re students,” Kraft said. “I got my whole tuition paid for, I got insurance covered when I needed it. I’ve got academic support, so there is a value there. Let’s not think this is just, ‘Hey, they’re here.’ No, there’s an intrinsic dollar amount that is invested in these athletes, which is great.”

Kraft said Temple’s stipend—tied with Tulsa and Tulane for the smallest out of 11 numbers available for American Athletic Conference teams, according to CBS Sports—and other amenities the university has available to students is sufficient.

“I think the line is where it is, I think that’s it,” Kraft said. “Allow us the ability to take care of their needs. You gave me a $5,000 check when I was at Indiana, I was going to go to the mall. That’s totally different. It’s about giving them what they need, and I think that’s taking care of those needs. There’s this whole talk, the O’Bannon case, and all that is just talking about the paying of athletes. That’s not right.”

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of former University of California, Los Angeles basketball player Ed O’Bannon and 19 former players in August 2014, saying the NCAA cannot prevent athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likeness. The ruling struck down existing NCAA regulations that prohibited players from receiving anything other than scholarships and the cost of attendance at schools.   

A March 2014 Washington Post poll found 33 percent of the public supports paying college athletes, while 64 percent oppose. Almost three-quarters of those opposed said they were “strongly opposed.” Nineteen percent of those surveyed are strongly supportive of paying college athletes, compared to 47 percent strongly against.

“Right now it seems like all the power is shifting over to the players,” women’s soccer coach Seamus O’Connor said. “And as coaches, we’re losing a lot of our power, like it’s just becoming a player-centered world, and I think if we start paying them now …  it’s just going down a dark road. I feel quite comfortable with the system we have now. I feel that scholarship is getting paid.”

An October 2013 survey by NCAA survey expert John Dennis found similar numbers, with 69 percent of the public and 61 percent of sports fans oppose paying college athletes.

“It’s an ongoing debate,” Kraft said. “It’s a national debate. It’s a debate by sometimes people who are not in the weeds and not in the trenches and know what’s really going on.”

Same brand, new deal

In September, the university announced a 10-year extension of its partnership with Under Armour.

The Baltimore-based company will continue to provide uniforms, apparel and footwear to the university’s 19 varsity sports teams. The Inquirer reported the deal is worth $30 million over 10 years, but Kraft declined to give specifics and noted the deal is among the Big 12, Big 10, Pacific 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences—referred to as the Power 5 due to their larger television revenue and their ability to create their own legislation.

The deal also includes an Under Armour concept store, which should open in the next month in Morgan Hall, Kraft said.

“We need to be proactive in getting folks wearing our gear,” Kraft said. “Now it’s happened, timing is everything, right? … It was important for us to set up a store like a spirit store.”

Universities in The American sponsored by Under Armour include Cincinnati, Navy and South Florida. The other eight schools in the conference are sponsored by Nike.

According to the Portland Business Journal, Cincinnati and South Florida’s 2015-16 total contract value with Under Armour are worth $4.9 million and $1.725 million, respectively.  Nike’s contract with Connecticut and Houston for the 2015-16 season are worth $2.825 million and $500,000, respectively. Details for the other eight teams are not available.

More than 40 teams in the Power 5 are represented by Nike. Adidas represents the second most schools with 12, Under Armour is third with eight and Russell Athletics is represented by one Power Five School.

Of the eight Division I universities partnered with Under Armour that have details available, according to the Portland Business Journal, four had 2015-16 total contract values of more than $3 million. Of the 44 Division I universities partnered with Nike, according to the Portland Business Journal, 12 have a 2015-16 total contract value of more than $3 million.

Outside looking in

Before the addition of the College Football Playoff in 2014, The American was part of the six power conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision. With the start of the playoff, the conference was lowered to the Group of 5 outside of the power conferences, which shares one automatic spot in the New Year’s Six Bowl games.

The Group of 5 includes Conference USA, the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Mid-American conferences.

Kraft said there is one distinction between Temple and the Power 5 schools.

“They got great TV dollars, and that’s the difference,” Kraft said. “People can say what they want and say we aren’t Power 5, but all I know is we went and beat a Penn State team that is Power 5.”

The Lafayette Journal and Courier reported in April 2014 the Big 10 expects 11 of its 14 schools to receive approximately $34.1 million from the conference’s television contract during the 2015-16 season, while SEC schools received more than $31 million each for the fiscal 2014-15 year. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said eight of the conference’s 12 schools received $27 million each in 2014-15.

In 2013, The American signed a seven year, $126 million TV contract with ESPN, which will run through the  2019-20 season.

“The only reason I compare to [the Power 5] is because they are winning and I want to win. … Football is the cream of the crop,” Kraft said. “That’s who you want to compete with.”

Despite receiving less money,  not being able to unilaterally change rules and benefit from a weighted voting system on legislation covering the 350 Division I schools, like the Power 5, Kraft is not worried about Temple’s conference alignment.

“Am I scared of that? Absolutely not,” Kraft said. “When it gets down to legislation, it’s the same thing. It helps us all because it’s cleared up the murkiness of rules that we would have wanted, and now, they have the power to go do it.”

New places to play

Last week, reports emerged that the Board of Trustees were in serious fundraising talks for an on-campus football stadium.

As the Inquirer first reported Friday, the university is three-quarters of the way to its $100 million mark for funding a 35,000-seat stadium. The university’s goal is to have the stadium open in 2018 in the northwest corner of campus, according to the report.

Geasey Field, which is home to the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams, is a potential area for the stadium to be built.

“[An on-campus stadium] has not been discussed,” Kraft said Oct. 14. “That’s way above my pay grade. I think that’s an institutional decision. I think we explore different opportunities. We try to look and see, but right now, no it’s not, and it hasn’t been discussed at that level.”

“I am truly not involved in that discussion. … Look at what’s happening at the Linc right now,” Kraft added. “Things are great. … I gotta stay focused. I can’t worry about all of that stuff right now.”

Kraft said despite the teams moving from Geasey Field, the area will still be used by Temple.

“It becomes another recreational and practice space for us,” Kraft said. “We are not short of field space.”

The Inquirer also reported funding will come from university donations and an expected $20 million in capital funding from the state, originally committed by former Gov. Tom Corbett. Gov. Tom Wolf expects to honor the commitment.

“If it was up to me, I’d be out there somewhere digging,” Kraft said.

Kraft confirmed the women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams will be moving to the old site of William Penn High School next fall. They will be joined by the women’s and men’s soccer teams and the track and field team.

“They’ve started tearing it down now,” Kraft said. “We will be ready for fall.”

The men’s and women’s soccer teams have played at Ambler Sports Complex since the 2004 season and the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams have called Geasey Field home since 2009 and 2010, respectively.

“This will make it easier for everyone,” Kraft said of the move to the property at Broad and Master streets. “It’s much needed.”

Measuring success

Two years ago, Temple joined a newly formed American Athletic Conference.

Six of Temple’s team sports compete in The American—women’s and men’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, football and volleyball.

In the program’s inaugural season in The American in 2013, those teams went a combined 26-49-4 (33 winning percentage). Last season, those teams totaled a 48-31-2 record (59 winning percentage). So far in 2015, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball and football are 17-12-1 in conference play (57 winning percentage).

“What I look for is continued progress,” Kraft said. “Are we going backward or forward? I think you see us moving forward in our programs.”

In its first season with the conference, the football team went 2-10 overall and 1-7 in The American.

Through seven games in 2015, the football team is undefeated for the first time in school history, ranked in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 1979 and 4-0 in conference for the first time since joining The American.

“There is a lot of energy, and that shows the power of college football,” Kraft said. “College football draws a lot of eyes and draws a lot of attention and it brings a lot of people out of the woodwork.”

In its previous two seasons, the football team was 8-16 overall and 5-11 in conference play. Since 2010, which includes three seasons in the Mid-American Conference, the Owls were 36-31 coming into 2015.

“Winning is a marketing tool that we haven’t been able to successfully do for an extended period of time,” said Larry Dougherty, the senior athletic director for communications. “There is more buzz now around Temple football than there has ever been in the history of the sport.”

Looking for stability

At the end of its 2014 season, the field hockey team sat at No. 14 in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association coaches poll.

In her 10th season with the program, coach Amanda Janney led the Owls to a 14-7 record. She compiled a 114-94 record in her 10 years with the team.

After bringing the program to national prominence, Janney left her position in February for the same job at Indiana University of the Big 10 Conference, which finished 9-8, including a 1-7 record in Big 10 play in 2014.

The department hired Marybeth Freeman, formerly the coach at Columbia University, as Janney’s replacement. Freeman has a 6-12 record in her first year.

“I don’t like to talk about personnel, but I think it was the challenge of going to the Big 10,” Kraft said of the reason for Janney’s departure. “She had been here for a while, but I don’t know. … I’m happy with who we have.”

Kristen Foley, a senior associate athletic director who oversaw the women’s programs, left Temple in July to be an assistant women’s basketball coach at Lafayette University under her former coach Theresa Grentz.

Foley, former track and field coach Eric Mobley and the university are currently being sued by former athlete Ebony Moore for $10 million in damages on charges of harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination, as reported by The Temple News in August 2014 as a part of a seven-month investigation.

“[Foley] just went back to coaching,” Kraft said. “I think we were all surprised.”

The university fired nine-year women’s gymnastics coach Aaron Murphy in March. Murphy was being investigated by the university for “violations of athletic department policy.”

The reason for Murphy’s firing was never released by the university. Kraft told The Temple News he could not comment on personnel issues.

He did speak generally about why the program decides to move on from its coaches.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work, whatever the reason might be,” Kraft said. “You always want stability, but you want stability at a high level. You want stability that’s moving in the right direction. But we’re no different than any department in the country. We’re no different than any job or business in the country. You need to use that as an opportunity to bring the situation higher, raise it up and get potentially a better person, hopefully a better person that can do that.”

Michael Guise and Owen McCue can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

Tom Reifsnyder contributed reporting.

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