Five months of homelessness for the football team and its fans came to an end today with the announcement that 2005 will mark the first year of affiliation between Temple and the Mid-American Conference.
The Owls, kicked out of the Big East Conference at the end of last season, were slated to play an independent schedule this season. Instead, they will play four games against MAC opponents this year and a partial MAC schedule in 2006. In 2007, they will become full members of the MAC East Division.
Big East officials voted in 2001 to eliminate Temple, one of the conference’s original members, from the league beginning this season. Since then, University administration has been relatively quiet publicly but vigilant, by their accounts, in seeking a new affiliation.
Toledo, Western Michigan and Miami (OH) will visit Lincoln Financial Field this season, while the Owls will travel to Bowling Green for their only MAC road game. Six teams from the conference played in bowl games in 2004. The Owls, the 13th member of the MAC, will be bowl eligible immediately.
“This completes the puzzle to have the pieces it takes to compete at the Division I level,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “It has been a tough, hard ride for the administration, but they persisted.”
Wallace was joined by President David Adamany, athletics director Bill Bradshaw and MAC commissioner Rick Chryst in making the official announcement at a press conference today in front of alumni, players, faculty and media.
Quarterback Mike McGann, who will now lead the Owls in a league known for its quarterbacks, sat and laughed with new teammate Nehemiah Ingram before the press conference. All-time rushing leader Paul Palmer sat behind them, and Hooter, the Owls mascot, stood beside the stage – with black electrical tape covering the “Big East” logo on his Temple football jersey.
On the surface, the MAC is a step down in competition from the Big East and its Bowl Championship Series membership, which could bode well for the Owls this season. But Wallace reminded those in attendance to remain realistic with a team that has not won more than four games in a season since 1990.
“A lot of people have the misunderstanding that now we can win games automatically because of who we’re playing,” Wallace said. “Well, that’s very naïve. What we can celebrate is that for the first time there’s not a cloud over our heads. Our coaches can go into kids’ homes and say, ‘Come to Temple. It’s a great university, a comfortable place to live, and we’re in the MAC.'”
Bradshaw likewise provided a bit of somber reality amid the optimism. He made an extensive comment on the recent history of the program and may have indirectly offered an ultimatum to Wallace, who is in the final year of his eight-year contract.
“In the past, our excuses were as numerous as our losses,” Bradshaw said. “If that goalpost just hadn’t jumped in the way of that extra point two years ago in overtime against Virginia Tech; if we’d only gotten that third-and-inches against Pitt in the fourth quarter [last season]. … Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. If we’d only done that, if we’d only done this, what a difference that game, that season, that decade would have been.
“However, things have changed dramatically from just a few years ago,” he continued. “Temple now plays all its games in the finest football facility on the planet. Our team practices every day in a practice facility that is second-to-none. The Board of Trustees recently pledged support to make Temple competitive on the Division I-A level, and today we join one of the great conferences in Division I-A. For the first time in 106 years of football at Temple, the crucial ingredients of success are there.”
The inherent message was that Bradshaw and department of athletics feel there are now no administrative obstacles to the Owls’ success on the gridiron. The team’s new affiliation could become its newest challenge.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.