‘The Arms Race’

An exploration of the athletic department’s progress in the American Athletic Conference
following the elimination of five varsity sports.

A heat wave was approaching Main Campus as the fight neared its end.

When the clock struck midnight on July 1, with little fanfare or recognition, five varsity sports were officially eliminated from Temple’s athletic department. Coaches and students battled to save the cut programs from last December through the spring semester, and although the Board of Trustees reversed its original decision to put an end to crew and rowing, it refused to budge on the other five.

On this hazy summer evening, baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track & field were stripped of their Division I sponsorship.

The hot spell lasted only three days, but in the eyes of Athletic Director Kevin Clark, the direction of the athletic department has yet to change course. Nearing his one-year anniversary since being promoted to his position, Clark wants his athletic program to persevere.

“Keep chopping wood,” he said when discussing the long road ahead for Temple Athletics.

In an exclusive interview with The Temple News, Clark and other high-ranking athletic department officials outlined their vision of the future: broad-based competition among all Temple sports, from revenue programs like football and men’s basketball, to non-revenue sports like women’s soccer and tennis.

However, after a lackluster performance in the inaugural year of play in the American Athletic Conference, formerly known as the Big East Conference, the department faces an uphill battle.

While the athletic department has made progress, it still faces the challenges of gaining ground in The American, where none of the remaining varsity sports won a conference tournament game in 2013, compiling a collective winning percentage of 33.3 percent, losing or tying in 56 of their 84 conference games.

Despite the first-year struggles, the athletic administration has set its sights on not only conference championships in The American, but national titles as well.

“Our goal obviously is to win The American conference championship, but our eventual goal is to win the national championship,” Deputy Director of Athletics Pat Kraft said. “Now that can take time, but the way that you have a successful department is when everybody is winning.”

“You want everybody to be nationally ranked and then put yourself in a position to win a national championship,” he added. “As you start to get those national championship trophies, alumni brag on that, above and beyond their football and basketball teams.”

In light of these high expectations, one of the administration’s primary steps to achieving broad-based competition was the sports cuts.

Clark proposed the eradication of sports programs for the sake of being competitive in a new conference, one with moderate budgets and an average of roughly 18 sports per school. Last year, in The American’s inaugural season, Temple operated 24 sports. Now, the department sponsors 19.

As a result of the cut sports, the administration has taken action to improve the quality of athletics, including the acquisition of the property on which William Penn High School sat.

Temple and buying partner Laborers’ District Council Education and Training/Apprenticeship Fund purchased the William Penn property for $15 million. Clark said the property will be the eventual homes for men’s and women’s soccer and track & field, with field hockey and lacrosse as potential movers contingent upon the percentage of the space given to the athletic department.

The American receives $22-25 million in television revenues, per Forbes’ reporting on conference contracts. Ej Smith | TTN
The American receives $22-25 million in television revenues, per Forbes’ reporting on conference contracts. Ej Smith | TTN

Also stemming from the cut sports, the athletic program has seen $2 million in freed money, $1.5 million of which has been reallocated into locker rooms and training facilities, as well as other renovations made in an effort to align Temple with its conference rivals.

Clark said the athletic department is currently in compliance with Title IX, the gender-equity law passed in 1972. In February, however, President Theobald sent an email to the Board of Trustees outlining an investigation being conducted into the university by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights regarding possible failure in providing equal opportunities for female student-athletes. The inquiry, according to the email, was about locker rooms, facilities, financial assistance, housing and dining.

“We took a look under the hood about six to eight months ago and realized we’re really behind in all of our locker rooms,” Clark said. “We had to work with the campus and got our facility guys involved, they came up with a great design and we took the locker rooms and did a total renovation.”

The money freed by the cuts has also been reallocated into fully funding all women’s athletic programs on scholarships and providing most men’s sports with either full or close to full funding. The reallocated money resulted in the extension of those scholarships into the summer, allowing fall athletes the opportunity to stay on Main Campus during their summer training months and practice with their respective coaches in Temple-run facilities.

The scholarship enhancements have resulted in substantial increases in available scholarships for certain sports, including women’s rowing increasing from 10 to 20 and women’s gymnastics jumping from six to 12.

Additionally, the men’s cross country team is expected to see an increase from one scholarship to the fully-funded amount of five in the near future, Clark said.

Although the department has taken strides, it is still behind many schools in The American.

“[The scholarships] are something that our competitors and our peers do with regularity,” Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Mark Ingram said.

Fixing the problem

Prior to the cuts, Temple’s 24 varsity sports exceeded or equalled that of any team in The American, while it ranked in the bottom half of the conference in operating expenses, spreading its relatively small budget even thinner.

The main problem the department faced lied in the lofty number of sponsored sports, coupled with a strained operating budget that teams struggled to stay competitive with in The American. With 24 Division I sports, Temple ranked dead last in average amount of money spent per sport with $1.7 million.

Following the cuts, Temple has trimmed its sponsored sports to 19. If distributed equally, this number puts them at an average $2.2 million per sport, still behind many schools like basketball powerhouse Connecticut – which, according to the Department of Education, finished with an average of $2.6 million per sport. Temple finishes six out of 11 in the race, with Southern Methodist ranking first, providing an average of $3 million per sport if distributed equally.

The shortage in resources for individual sports resulted in disadvantages in recruiting, because many sports were below the varying NCAA maximum allowance and some were not offered full-year scholarships.

The money freed in the new-look athletic program has allowed Temple to cover the lost ground and provide more resources for the remaining sponsored sports.

“Prior to the elimination of those teams we were not in a position to fully fund all of our sports,” Ingram said. “We were not providing [certain teams] the maximum number of scholarship dollars that we could per NCAA rules but our goal is to get there within a year or a year and a half. We’re doing that with all of our teams so that our coaches are on the same playing field as far as resources to recruit kids.”

For women’s soccer coach Seamus O’Connor, the change in resources – from fully funded, full-year scholarships to the prospect of playing at the William Penn property – is helping to bolster in what he sees as already upward-moving women’s soccer program.

“[The increase in resources] is huge for recruiting,” O’Connor said. “We are getting top kids now, the kids that we never expected to get. We’re now getting the elite kids, before we would really have to sell some of these kids. … It’s really interesting to see how it’s changed. I have messages from Florida, Oklahoma and California, the really good coaches from club teams that I didn’t know they knew we existed are now contacting me. They’re looking at Temple as an option.”

Prior to the cuts, Temple ranked last in average dollars available per sponsored team in The American. Ej Smith | TTN
Prior to the cuts, Temple ranked last in average dollars available per sponsored team in The American. Ej Smith | TTN

Administrators also said they expected to see increased revenue and resources in the form of a new apparel contract as they await the expiration of their current deal with Under Armour. Clark said he will not settle for a deal that would fail to cover the department’s current expenses for apparel.

“We spend probably, on average, $500,000-600,000 on product,” Clark said. “With our new [apparel] contract, we don’t have to spend that money because we’d get a deal that would cover that and then we get to take those dollars and reallocate that into other things.”

While the administration’s future negotiations and eventual signing have yet to enter any discussions with vendors, Clark said he is confident the athletic department can find a contract that would cover the department’s current expenses.

“Our vendors are going to respect us because we bring a national brand,” Clark said.

A united front

Former Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw always understood the importance of being on the same page.

“When you take a job as an athletic director or you take a job as a president, you want to make sure you can answer the question, ‘What do they want to be?” Bradshaw said, “They need to answer those questions.”

“The very good programs, the very competitive programs can tell you what they need to be there and they can tell you if it fits the mission of the school and they can tell you if the university has the financial resources to be there,” Bradshaw added.

However, the athletic administration’s goal differs from the opinion Theobald expressed in an Op-Ed to the Inquirer in which he referred to the program as a “mid-major.”

Theobald’s piece addressed the university’s attempt to sponsor more sports than its budget could take on, and for some, left confusion for the direction of Temple Athletics.

“I think Temple has had an up-and-down answer to that question,” Bradshaw said. “When we were there they were voting on whether to have football or not … there were a lot of decisions that looked like Temple wanted to be a part of the big leagues, and then there’s been some remarks, like the president’s quote ‘being a mid-major’ … If you say you want to be a mid-major then that changes how you judge the success of a program.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications Larry Dougherty said he believes Theobald “probably misspoke” in his Op-Ed in his classification of Temple’s athletic program.

“I think the ‘mid-major’ term is used very loosely,” Clark said. “I don’t think that schools in the Mountain West consider themselves a mid-major program, I don’t think Gonzaga from the standpoint of basketball consider themselves a mid-major program.”

Despite Theobald’s remarks, the athletic administration stands by the mission statement of being a broad-based program, and cites college athletics’ growing congruity as providing a conference outside of the Power 5 a possibility to succeed on a national level.

“We’re on national TV for basketball and football,” Kraft said. “That’s changed the landscape not just for us, but for everybody. … There’s parity in the game, anyone can beat anybody at any time.”

The best of the rest

Bill Bradshaw said The American is the sixth-best collegiate conference in the country. Clark, his successor, agrees with him.

Regardless of where The American stands next to other conferences throughout the country, however, it still leaves Temple on the outside looking in on the “Power 5” conferences, comprised of the Southeastern Conference, The Big Ten, The Big 12, The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pacific-12, who possess the privilege of passing legislation among themselves without any say from other college conferences.

Clark said the Power 5 has misled the view of college athletics, citing competitive parity as the most important factor among collegiate programs.

“The [Power] 5 have created this super, ‘We’re better than everybody else [mindset],’ but if you really look at how the teams compete at a national level in all of the sports, any schools outside of that [Power] 5 can compete at a national level at basketball,” Clark said.

However, Bradshaw said  Temple could fall even further behind as the Power 5 continues to grow.

“[The danger of] being on the outside is significant,” Bradshaw said. “The revenues of those Power 5 schools are exponentially larger, I’m going to say $25-30 million dollars per each school. … When you take all the revenues from the conferences, the differences between the Power 5 and the next strongest conference – let’s say it’s The American – the differences are $25-30 million a year per school.”

Clark claims the disparity is simply the television revenue the bigger schools receive due to their conference affiliations.

“If our conference was receiving $10, $12 or $14 million in TV money, it’d be the ‘Super 6,’” Clark said. “It’s all based on TV money.”

On average, the Power 5 makes a combined $1.1 billion in network television money alone, according to Forbes. Each individual conference’s revenues span from the Big Ten’s $250 million deal to the SEC’s $205 million contract, which is expected to increase to around $250 million after their current deal expires.

By contrast, Forbes reported that The American recently signed a six-year television deal with ESPN and CBS to pay between $22-25 million per year, totalling less than the income of some individual schools in a higher conference.

Bradshaw said he believes the longer Temple remains on the middle-ground that is The American, its future remains troublesome.

“It’s only going to get larger because those television contracts are going to increase,” Bradshaw added. “It’s got to be frustrating, because obviously as you’re in the arms race, as they all are in the arms race, which is better and bigger facilities and more expenditures for coaches and salaries.”

Bradshaw said Temple faces a potential growing disparity between the Power 5 and The American, if the conferences are eventually allowed to compensate players – an issue long debated in collegiate athletics.

“Now the biggest thing is there is going to be some formula in which you can pay student-athletes, and that may really separate the Power 5 from the rest, more than anything that’s happened,” Bradshaw said. “When you consider that they’re financially capable of doing that, then you understand why they would pass some kind of legislation which authorizes those school to do that,” Bradshaw said.

“It’s sad really.”

EJ Smith can be reached at esmith@temple.edu and on twitter @ejsmitty17

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