There has been much to celebrate at the Liacouras Center during the past two weeks.
Following the men’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament snub, the team won its first three games of the National Invitation Tournament –sending the Owls to Madison Square Garden in New York tonight for a semifinal matchup against Miami. The women’s basketball team, too, is among the final four teams remaining in its own NIT tournament following late-game heroics at McGonigle Hall last Thursday and another win on Sunday.
But in the midst of this celebration, concerns regarding the university’s athletic department linger. On March 23, following an internal investigation into what Temple previously described as “violations of athletic department policy,” Athletic Director Kevin Clark announced the dismissal of women’s gymnastics coach Aaron Murphy and assistant coach Deirdre Mattocks Bertotti.
The administration provided no reason for the firings, nor was any indication provided of what the investigation uncovered. A Temple spokesperson said the department’s silence was in line with its policy to not comment on personnel matters.
Murphy’s situation is not the only coaching controversy the university has seen during the last year. Last August, The Temple News published the findings of a seven-month investigation into the university’s athletic department that uncovered a seasons-long pattern of abuse and neglect in the men’s and women’s track & field program that the administration overlooked for years.
Former track & field coach Eric Mobley is being sued alongside Temple and Senior Associate Athletic Director Kristen Foley for $10 million by former school record-holder Ebony Moore following emotional trauma she says stemmed from her experience of competing here.
Despite complaints made to the administration by Moore and, according to former athletes, dozens of other students throughout recent years, Mobley remained in his position through the end of the 2013-14 season – after which he abruptly resigned. The university denies any wrongdoing in its handling of the track & field program, despite extensive evidence proving otherwise contained within our report.
Last Tuesday night, Moore’s story was featured on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in an episode highlighting the mental and physical struggles of student-athletes throughout the country.
Many other student-athletes at Temple have known a different kind of struggle during the last year – during which five teams were eliminated from the athletic department. Regardless of the university’s justification behind the cuts, based on monetary and Title IX-related issues, the administration grossly mishandled the announcement. Clark delivered the news without warning, in a cut-and-dry two-minute speech to the affected athletes.
Clark spoke later that day to The Temple News and other outlets, but multiple interview requests for him throughout 2014 were denied. Even last fall, when The Temple News was finally permitted to speak to Clark, there were conditions placed upon us before the conversation – among them, that the athletic cuts and track & field investigation would not be discussed.
Clark, who President Theobald picked in 2013 to be the face of Temple’s athletic department, seems to be running a department shrouded in secrecy. In a landscape where, as highlighted by last week’s HBO report, college sports are coming under increased national scrutiny, such non-transparency is troubling to see.
We have been and will continue investigating Murphy’s departure. That being said, it’s unclear why Temple is so unwilling to share any details regarding Murphy’s exit. The university community, much of which is made up of students and student-athletes whose money goes toward funding the athletic department, deserves answers to its questions.
“They’re not telling us, which is what’s so baffling,” a gymnast told The Temple News last week. “They’re not giving us a reason as to why. They told us the university is moving in a new direction. I asked, other members asked. They’re not releasing it. They’re not even releasing the information to the community, which is a little strange.”
What’s also strange is the university’s unwillingness to own up to its oversight and accept responsibility for whatever mistakes it has made in the administration of its sports programs that necessitated the departures of Murphy, and before him, Mobley.
The university will receive a lot of recognition this week with both of its basketball teams a game away from the NIT finals, and in the larger picture, its athletic department may very well be on the rise. Talks of an on-campus football stadium, which has the potential to revolutionize this institution, continue as the team’s contract with the Philadelphia Eagles nears its completion.
Temple can build that stadium, though many would argue that it shouldn’t. In the years to come, it can also rally students into cheering on its revenue sports and – in doing so – bolster school pride. It can use its athletic department to shine a beaming national spotlight on Main Campus, as administrators have expressed a desire to do, through the increased television exposure that comes with the American Athletic Conference. Temple is capable of accomplishing all of these things, and more, effectively.
But that does not mean it wouldn’t be succeeding in spite of itself.