Dropping the ball

The Temple News explores the university’s place in the Big East from 1991 to 2004, what led to its 2001 exit and Temple’s recent re-entry. Part 1 of 2: John Chaney had never spoken at

The Temple News explores the university’s place in the Big East from 1991 to 2004, what led to its 2001 exit and Temple’s recent re-entry.

Part 1 of 2:

John Chaney had never spoken at a Board of Trustees meeting before.

The legendary coach who led the men’s basketball team for 24 years was called in front of the board at a meeting on March 13, 2001, less than two weeks after it was announced on March 1, 2001, that the Big East Conference voted to kick Temple out as a football member for not meeting standards outlined by the conference.

Chaney was asked to give the President’s Report in place of President David Adamany, who took over for former President Peter Liacouras in August 2000. Chaney remarked that the Big East had treated Temple, a football-only founding member, in a mean-spirited way and that the conference has a history of disrespecting the university.

While Chaney’s frustrations with the Big East were understandable at the time, the people most responsible with improving the university’s relationship with the conference were sitting in the room with him.

Through a comprehensive look at records and multiple interviews, The Temple News found that the Big East’s ongoing concerns with Temple were lost in the shuffle in the transitional period between Liacouras and Adamany. In addition, the investigation found that Adamany wasn’t as motivated to improve athletics as his predecessor. In 2004, when a task force was created to decide on the future of the football team, Adamany voted to disband the program when it needed him the most.

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TTN file photo

The Big East re-entrance looks bright for Temple, which re-enters the conference for football this season and all sports effective in 2013, and is a big accomplishment for the athletic department. But before the turnaround, the university struggled to stay competitive in the Big East during the 1990s to such a great extent that it led to a conference formally voting out one of its members for the first – and currently only – time in the 102-year history of intercollegiate athletics.

A DECADE OF DECLINE

In 1990, the Big East began to sponsor Division I football, and its inaugural season in 1991 had Temple as one of the initial members. The Owls were competitive in 1990 as coach Jerry Berndt led the team to a 7-4 record in its final season as an independent before entering the Big East, but something else was going on that year: a faculty strike that would damage the university’s finances for the rest of the decade.

“We lost a quarter of our freshman class and that had an impact for five or six years, so we didn’t have much in the way of financial resources. We were strapped,” said George Moore, senior vice president of university counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees. “We had another downturn in demographics from ’94 to ‘95 and we had to have layoffs, so we didn’t have the money to invest in anything: the campus, athletics or anything in the ‘90s.”

In the arms race that is college football, Temple fell behind. The Owls kicked off a string of losing seasons and did not win a game against a Big East opponent until 1995.

“Temple was in the Big East, but everything else wasn’t,” current football coach Steve Addazio, who was an assistant coach at Syracuse, a fellow Big East school, from 1995 to 1998, said at a recent board meeting. “Temple didn’t have what we had.”

The budget, the practice facilities, the attendance, even a stadium to play in, were not up to par with Temple’s peers in the Big East. For a practice field, the team had to share a grass field adjacent to then-called McGonigle Hall with the university’s other sports teams as well as Campus Recreation and individual students.

“It is grossly inadequate,” Liacouras wrote about the field in a 1998 discussion paper about the football team. “Continuous and multiple use leaves it in poor shape and with unpredictable availability for safe football practices. No other [Division I] football program can make that statement.”

The team also struggled with having a consistent home field, bouncing back and forth between Veterans Stadium and the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.

“We were third in line at Veterans Stadium behind the Eagles and the Phillies and especially with the Phillies, that created huge problems because they played a lot of games on a lot of weekends in the fall and if they got into the playoffs, then more would be scheduled,” Moore said. “So we were constantly being bumped and had difficulties scheduling our games and that was actually a big problem for the Big East.”

These issues, combined with the Owls continuing to flounder on the field, led to poor attendance and the unspectacular revenues that came with it. According to NCAA attendance data in 1998, Temple ranked No. 101 out of 112 schools with an average home attendance of 15,127. The average home attendance for the Big East was 39,895. Temple lagged behind its conference peers who had larger budgets and the attendance and donor base to back it up.

“I think we found ourselves in an environment where if you think about the schools in the Big East: Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, places like that, they were programs that had a much more immediate short-term tradition than we did,” Joseph “Chip” Marshall, a trustee on both the executive and athletic committees, said. “There were pretty significant investments made by those programs. So if you compared us with say with the number of dollars that we spend versus the number of dollars of Virginia Tech or Boston College, there was a pretty good disparity there.”

“Naturally, because we didn’t have money to invest, we were like the poor little cousin in the Big East,” Moore said. “So we weren’t successful, we lost and when you lose, you don’t put fans in the stadium.”

ADDRESSING THE ISSUES

As the losses mounted, so did the Big East’s frustration with the university’s inability to field a competitive football team. Moore said Temple had been made aware of the Big East’s concerns throughout the late ‘90s.

“They did have what they called ‘qualification standards and criteria’ that they said you had to have,” Moore said. “One of those was you had to have a stadium. No. 2 was you had to average so many fans over a period of years and they wanted you to be competitive. They did have these benchmarks out there all along and they said, ‘Temple, you’re not meeting them.’”

The Board of Trustees took a step toward solving the Big East’s issues with Temple in 1999.

An athletics committee report at the March 9, 1999, board meeting revealed that trustee Arthur Raynes would chair a committee to build a training complex for the football team. In a related move, Liacouras announced that June that giving the football team its own field was a part of his “10 Challenges for ’99.” By the end of that year, the board passed a motion to build a practice facility for football on 11th and Diamond streets that would become Edberg-Olson Hall, the team’s current practice facility.

“We built a new practice facility,” Bobby Wallace, coach of the football team from 1998-2005, said. “Our schedule was tough at that time with out-of-conference games mostly on the road. Attendance improved while I was there, though not like Virginia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse, places like that. I thought we were making improvements until we got kicked out.”

Temple strung together back-to-back four-win seasons in 2000-01, the most wins in a season since entering the Big East. The university also agreed on principle to play in the new Philadelphia Eagles’ stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, which was to be completed in 2003.

“The teams from the Big East at that time were strong,” Wallace said. “We were playing Miami when nobody was beating Miami. Syracuse was good with Donovan McNabb when we first got there. We beat them twice. Virginia Tech was a great team. Boston College was a great team. We were able to beat Rutgers four years in a row. I just think the timing was bad and I think it was obvious that the financial budget and facilities weren’t equal to the other teams in the conference at that time.”

“We were struggling, but we were building a practice facility,” Moore said. “We were trying to get a new stadium. We were trying to do things, we just hadn’t been able to accomplish anything because all the circumstances that surrounded Temple at the time.”

Moore said Liacouras did his best to convince the Big East that Temple was trying to move in the right direction.

“Peter Liacouras fought back pretty well and he presented Temple’s case and he did a good job of trying to let the Big East know what we were doing and that was all through the ‘90s,” Moore said.

LIACOURAS AND ADAMANY

George Moore tried to be fair when describing Adamany’s passion for athletics.

“I don’t think [Adamany] had the same passion for Temple being in the Big East and continuing the struggle Peter Liacouras had,” Moore said. “When [Adamany] came in, his focus was more on improving the academic side of things and [athletics] wasn’t a passion of his like it was for [Liacouras].”

During the crucial two-year period between when Temple began making a serious commitment to addressing the Big East’s concerns in the form of building a practice facility in 1999 and when the conference kicked Temple out in 2001, the university was in the midst of one of its most significant transitions in leadership since its inception.

Liacouras, president of the university since 1981 and the man most responsible for shaping Temple’s image to the rest of the country, was stepping down. The university was hiring an outsider, Adamany, a Wisconsin native and former president of Wayne State University in Detroit, to take the spot Liacouras held for nearly 20 years.

As far as athletics are concerned, Adamany was not the champion of the department that Liacouras was.

The basketball arena on Main Campus dons the name of Liacouras, a true fan of the basketball and football team. Liacouras saw Temple enter the Big East in football in 1991 and his presidency coincided with the tenure of men’s basketball coach John Chaney, the program’s winningest coach of all time.

On the other hand, Adamany had no prior experience with Division I sports: Wayne State competes in Division II for football. Adamany said the football team was almost a lost cause when he first took his presidency.

“There was a time when I thought it would be very hard to revitalize Temple football,” Adamany said. “It was a badly weakened program that needed new leadership.”

Moore said Adamany’s view of the football team was clouded by its near 10-year history of failure in the Big East.

“When Adamany came in, we had been losing in football for a long time and he’s looking at that and saying ‘It’s going to take a huge investment to turn this thing around, we’ve got academics to improve and that takes investment there, my main passion and focus is not going to be saving this football program, which looks like it’s mired and going nowhere and can get nowhere in a city like Philadelphia,’ so he just had a different perspective and it wasn’t the same as Liacouras,” Moore said.

Adamany said he did not stress the importance of athletics as much as his predecessor.

“I think [Liacouras] was much more interested in the role of intercollegiate athletics than I was,” Adamany said. “I, of course, attended all the games and entertained people in the president’s box, but I think I was more concerned about the issue of academic quality in the university.”

Marshall acknowledged that while Liacouras was more motivated to keep Temple in the Big East, it would be a stretch to blame Temple’s Big East blunder on Adamany.

“I don’t know if it’s as nefarious as people make it out to be,” Marshall said. “I just don’t think we had enough time to have our program evolve to where it is today. I think whoever was going to be in that president’s role, there was going to be disappointment – look, I was disappointed that we couldn’t stay in the Big East.”

“There were concerns raised long before David Adamany was president and the Big East had concerns with us and there was a pretty big disparity in our level of investment and their level of investment,” Marshall added. “I think it’s more complicated than saying we were kicked out of the Big East because of [Adamany].”

Part 2 of 2:

Bobby Wallace said he was heading into Center City on a Saturday morning when former athletic director Dave O’Brien called him to tell him Temple was being kicked out of the Big East.

“[O’Brien] called me on a Saturday morning, I remember it like it was yesterday,” Wallace, the football coach from 1998 to 2005, said. “He called me and said we were out. He told me this isn’t going to be easy.”

Temple was formally asked to leave the Big East in March 2001, but was able to negotiate a three-year grace period in which the university continued competing in the conference in football until 2004.

The Big East cited its ongoing concerns, poor attendance and lack of university funding, with Temple as its reasons for the decision.  Newly appointed in charge of the university, former president David Adamany, said he was unaware of any of the Big East’s problems with Temple prior to assuming office.

“No board member ever mentioned it when they briefed me on issues at Temple I should be working on,” Adamany said. “I was brand new and I wasn’t told by anyone that we were in trouble with the Big East. I came to Temple and a ton of bricks fell on me.”

However, during the eight-month period between when Adamany took the presidency in August 2000 and the March 2001 announcement of Temple’s exit from the Big East, Adamany had at least two discussions with the Big East in which he said the conference gave the university “notice.”

George Moore, the head of university counsel and secretary of the board of trustees, and O’Brien said they weren’t aware of any conversations the university was having with the conference specifically on Temple’s removal in Fall 2000. A brand-new president who didn’t know of the Big East’s concerns prior to assuming office was having private meetings with the conference’s presidents to decide on Temple’s future.

“I had only been here for a few months and I had never been briefed on the problem,” Adamany said. “I did say at a meeting of Big East presidents that I’d like to be given an opportunity to turn this thing around. I think the view of the Big East presidents at that time was that Temple had been given a chance to turn things around and it failed to do so.”

Joseph “Chip” Marshall, a trustee on both the executive and athletics committees, said Adamany was the “point man” in the university’s discussion with the Big East.

“I was a fairly active member of the board with athletics, but people weren’t calling me,” Marshall said. “They were calling the president.”

Adamany neglected to bring up the issue at Board of Trustees meetings in October and December of 2000. When the March 2001 announcement of Temple’s exit came around, the move seemed to have shocked everyone but Adamany.

“I don’t think you just go into a meeting and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen,’ I think there were conversations behind closed doors that I didn’t know about,” Wallace said. “It was disappointing to get voted out.”

“I think there may have been a better way to doing it and give us an opportunity to pick things up where they say ‘You’ve got two years to do this Temple and this is your last chance’ as opposed to just in 2001 calling us into a meeting and saying ‘We took a vote and decided [Temple is out],’” Moore said. “It came on pretty suddenly, they hadn’t been happy with us and we knew they weren’t happy with us, but we never thought it would come to that.”

Adamany said Temple’s Big East fate was decided before he took office.

“As to whether it was a surprise, the answer is that there had been clear warning to Temple over several years that its performance was not adequate,” Adamany said. “There certainly was some notice to Temple.”

“It’s widely misunderstood why Temple was pushed out of the Big East and some misunderstanding in my role in that, whether I was vigorous enough in my attempt to keep Temple in the Big East,” Adamany added. “I just made the best argument that could be made, but since we had already been given repeated warnings before I got here, the Big East wasn’t interested in listening to anything we had to say.”

THE AFTERMATH

University officials first attempted to talk the Big East into rescinding its decision after the Big East presidents voted out Temple, but those talks were unsuccessful.

“We fought it at the time, but we weren’t successful in convincing the presidents of the other institutions in the Big East to take this in a different direction,” Moore said. “They had seen Temple’s performance and outcomes over the course of the years and they said ‘That’s enough, it’s time for us to move on and we have to find better pastures for us to do what we need to do in the Big East. Despite our efforts to try and stop that from happening, it happened, finances mean a lot, money means a lot, if you’re not bringing money in and just taking money out, after a while they asked ‘What’s the purpose of that?’”

Adamany said a lawsuit had been threatened against the Big East, but the university did not go through with it and instead began negotiating the school’s exit.

“There was no point in engaging in a lawsuit that costs a lot of money and certainly we would not win,” Adamany said. “Moreover you have to remember that any conference has to be able to act together on many issues. What kind of relationship would we have with the Big East if we were suing them in court? The answer is that it would be a broken relationship and you would not be able to participate in a conference if you have a broken relationship with the conference.”

As part of negotiating the university’s exit, Moore and other university officials were successful in convincing the Big East to let the Owls stay through the 2004 season.

“One of the things we convinced the Big East in 2001 was, ‘Look, we’ve recruited student athletes to come here and play in the Big East. They’re going to be here through 2004, you can’t pull the rug out from those student athletes. That’s not right,’” Moore said. “If you’re going to pull the rug out from under us and tell us to leave, you have to at least let us play out the string.”

Mike Tranghese, Big East commissioner from 1990 to 2009, and other Big East officials declined to comment.

On January 21, 2002, the university announced the resignation of Athletic Director Dave O’Brien. Both O’Brien and Adamany declined to discuss the specifics of his resignation and declined to discuss how the two worked together as Temple was being removed from the Big East amid speculation that the two did not get along with each other.

Current Provost and then-Vice President for Administration Richard Englert and the retired athletic director of the United States Naval Academy, Jack Lengyel, would serve brief stints as athletic director before current Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw took the job August 1, 2002.

While the athletic department’s leadership was a fluid situation, so was the fate of the football team after 2004. Wallace said Adamany initiated the conversation on dropping the football program in a meeting between the two of them, O’Brien and a few select trustees.

“I was asked to come over to his office and there were board members there. They were meeting and we were kind of in a back room,” Wallace said. “[Adamany] came into the back room and asked me my opinion on what we will do with all these student athletes if we drop football. I said at this time it would be very difficult for those kids and we should at least let them play one more season while we try to find them another home. After that meeting, we were invited into the boardroom and that’s when [then-Chairman of the Board of Trustees Howard Gittis and trustee Lewis Katz] made it known that we were not dropping football.”

The decision of whether or not to keep the program alive would not be formally addressed until Spring 2004. On the field, whatever vision Wallace had for turning the program around quickly fell apart. The Wallace-led Owls played four seasons in a conference whose relationship with Temple had totally fractured. The Owls went 11-35 in their last four years in the Big East and 1-22 in two years as an independent.

“It was difficult to recruit a high school player and ask him to play at Temple when I don’t know at what level or where we’re going to be playing,” Wallace said. “That changed our recruiting stance to going after junior college players: wholesale. There’s nothing wrong with junior college players, but when you sign 20-something of them, you know, they’re in junior college for a reason.”

Wallace’s decision to bring in so many junior college players not only failed to improve the team, but also ruined the team’s Academic Progress Rating, which landed the university in hot water with the NCAA. In 2008, the NCAA hit Temple with sanctions that limited the amount of scholarships the football team could have until the 2010 season after posting repeated years with a substandard APR.

In Spring 2004, Gittis commissioned a task force to examine the athletic department, but specifically to find out what was to be done with the football team upon exiting the Big East.

THE TASK FORCE

The task force to determine the football team’s fate consisted of trustees, faculty, students and alumni. Some of the names include current Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor, who headed the task force, Dean of the Beasley School of Law Joanna Epps and David Baron, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Temple’s medical school.

“We started looking at all aspects of the football program, the finances, what it needs to be competitive, the resources available and the resources needed,” Moore said of the task force. “We brought in consultants to talk to us about what football could mean for the university if it was successful and what it could mean for the university if it was not successful and looked at all the data that was available. It was a lot of work done.”

“There was a lot of discussion and debate, it was one of the better task forces we’ve had at Temple,” Moore added.

The task force was assigned to make a recommendation to the executive committee of the board on what to do with  the football team, and the board had to choose whether or not to accept the task force’s recommendation.

Ultimately, the task force recommended to have the football team continue to exist as a Division I program in a non-Bowl Championship Series conference. Moore said what swayed the task force was word of a possible membership in the Mid-American Conference.

“By that time, we have received some overtures from the commissioner of the MAC, Rick Chryst, that the MAC was interested in Temple as a member,” Moore said. “He saw the value Temple had as far as bringing the Philadelphia market and bring the MAC eastward and into this area, not just for television, but as a place to generate interest and a name for the MAC and spread its name.”

“Although we didn’t have an invitation, their interest had been expressed,” Moore added.

Adamany, who also participated in the task force, recommended dropping the football program, even if the MAC would agree to take in Temple.

“For [Adamany], his own personal view was that we should focus our time and energy that would be needed to do that in different direction rather than trying to resurrect football,” Moore said. “He thought the money, the energy and the resources would be better applied in a different direction, but the board looked at it decided differently.”

“At the time it looked like there wouldn’t be a turnaround,” Adamany said. “I didn’t have any negative feelings about the football program. We just looked at the data and I was one of those that looked at it and said ‘I don’t think we’re going to make it,’ so I voted not to continue football. But it turns out once we started to make the effort, we could save the football program and it was saved and it became very strong and I hate to say it this way, but turns out I proved myself to be wrong.”

THE REVIVAL

Once the dust settled from Temple’s Big East exit, the Owls got back to focusing on what’s most important: improving on-the-field performance.

Bradshaw hired Al Golden, defensive coordinator of Virginia University, as Temple’s new head coach in December 2005. Golden, who had never been head coach of a Division I team and became the second-youngest head coach in the country at that time, was a risky hire, but the move turned out to be the beginning of the revitalization of Temple football.

Golden improved the Owls’ record in each of his first four years in the MAC, culminating in the team’s first bowl appearance in 30 years in 2009. Current head coach Steve Addazio was hired in December 2010 and led Temple to its second bowl appearance in three years, and its first bowl win since 1979, in 2011.

Sometime between Golden’s last year in 2010 and when Addazio took over in 2011, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto and Bradshaw met to discuss the possibility of Temple being admitted back into the conference. Those discussions continued as the Big East fell victim to the ever-growing problem in college football of conference re-alignment in Fall 2011.

On March 7, Temple was officially announced as a new all sports member of the Big East, effective for football in 2012 and 20 other sports in 2013.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s exhilarating, it’s energizing. It hasn’t all hit me since this all happened, it’s been a blur,” Bradshaw said. “I’m certain there will be a day, hopefully soon, where I’ll be by myself, the sun will be shining, I’ll be outside and it’ll hit me, the significance of this, where we were and the steep climb up a sheer cliff…it may hit and it may be emotional.”

Joey Cranney and Brian Dzenis can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

3 Comments

  1. Howard Gittis and Lew Katz are the principle heroes to this story. The only way they can be thanked is if Owl Nation shows up in force next year and subsequent years.

  2. Good for Temple, bad for Nova. Nova will always be FCS football thanks to the Big East pulling the rug out from under us. Temple took Nova’s spot.

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