Athletic department and fans: proceed with caution

Temple’s administration should make sure to avoid the mistakes of previous big-time football schools.

Owen McCueFor 24 hours, Temple was Philadelphia’s team. On Oct. 31, the Philadelphia sports world revolved around the Owls.

Thousands of people showed up to College GameDay Saturday morning on Independence lawn and a sold-out crowd packed into Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night. The game received a 3.9 overnight rating, meaning approximately 4.5 million households watched the game.

“Our university was in the national spotlight,” President Theobald said in an email to students following the weekend’s events.

It was Temple’s moment to experience what it is like to be a big-time football program.

With an average attendance of 24,143 over the past three years and a 12-23 record during that time period, no one would have called Temple a “football school” coming into this season.

Temple isn’t tearing down Penn State’s door, which draws more than 100,000 people per game. Temple is not its American Athletic Conference opponent Cincinnati, which owns a 35,000-seat stadium, and has made several appearances in the Top 25 in the last 10 years and has been to eight postseason bowl games since 2006.

But with a renewed focus on the football program this year, there is a greater emphasis from the athletic department and the university in general to push Temple closer to that direction.

There are dangers of putting too much focus on the success of a university’s football program. Penn State saw this four years ago, when a culture revolving around football allowed the team’s defensive coordinator to slip through the cracks and later be convicted on 45 child sex-abuse charges over 15 years.

Recent opponent Notre Dame also displayed negligence in exchange for wins, when its athletic department allowed two players to compete in the national championship game amid sexual assault allegations in 2012.

Other less serious offenses spurred by a desire to win football games include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s academic fraud scandal where tutors completed coursework for students.

Temple’s football program has never been placed on NCAA probation. Athletic Director Pat Kraft said he wants his program to do things the “right way.’”

“I expect excellence,” Kraft told The Temple News in an interview last month. “I want people to expect excellence. We’re going to do it the right way. We’re going to be compliant. We’re going to have great academics.”

Looking at the mistakes from other programs that put football at the forefront of their universities’ missions, Temple should be aware of its goals.

“College football draws a lot of eyes and draws a lot of attention,” Kraft said. “It brings a lot of people out of the woodwork.”

Two weeks ago The Temple News confirmed the university was considering a 35,000-seat, on-campus stadium, an idea the university community can’t agree on yet.

“When my wife and I go back to Penn State, and my friends go back to Penn State, we usually go back to a football game,” football coach Matt Rhule said last week in a response supporting an on-campus football stadium.

A winning football team and a fan base that supports it does not equate to scandals and a loss of priorities, but the millions of dollars tied to wins and losses in college football can cloud moral judgement.

Teams playing in college football’s postseason can bring in anywhere from $325,000-$22 million this year. If Temple receives a bid to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the football team could bring in $18 million of revenue for the university, if the payout matches last year’s total.

Temple football is not and probably never will be at the level of other universities, but as Theobald, Kraft and others tied with the university attempt to draw a greater following and make football a larger priority, they need to know the risks and learn from the mistakes other schools have made.

Owen McCue can be reached at or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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