The American: Operating Expenses for 2011-2012 Reporting Year
With the promise of the Big East Conference, Temple’s revenue sports were looking forward to aligning themselves in 2014 with a conference that has a historic basketball tradition and a collection of prestigious football schools.
Instead, the Owls will enter a conference this year with vague geographic boundaries, an absence of precedent and no logo.
“Give me the name of it again?” redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Reilly asked in an interview.
“I actually just learned the name of the conference right before this interview,” sophomore guard Will Cummings said.
“SMU is in it right?” redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee asked.
It’s called the American Athletic Conference. The conference split in half and lost its name when the Catholic 7 decided to dissociate and form its own basketball conference that didn’t field football teams.
The American will lose 12 schools and add four programs in some capacity by the end of 2015. With three schools that were a part of the original Big East slated to remain in The American come 2015, men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy used the word “unsure-edness” to describe the landscape of the conference.
“The logos, the branding, those things will all come together,” football coach Matt Rhule said. “In four or five years we will be saying ‘The American’ like it’s nothing…But for right now the only thing I need from the conference is a schedule.”
The schedule that Rhule alluded to differs across the board for the revenue wsports. While the football team will play five conference opponents in 2013 that it faced last year, the men’s and women’s basketball teams won’t have the luxury of familiarity.
The men’s basketball team holds a 51-41 all-time record against the nine conference basketball opponents in 2013, while the women’s squad boasts a 14-36 record against them. When Louisville and Rutgers leave the conference and East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are added after the 2013 season, Temple’s familiarity will decrease significantly.
While Temple must adjust to new faces, the coaches and players said it shouldn’t affect performance or game-planning.
“You’re not studying throughout, you’re preparing for a team three days before,” women’s basketball coach Tonya Cardoza said. “You want teams to adjust to you.”
“We will be preparing us,” Dunphy said. “We will be worrying about us until we get into playing the games and studying the opponents in the fall.”
While Rhule enjoys the luxury of his players being somewhat familiar with the style of play in the new conference, he is attempting to install a new system in his first year at the helm. The team is attempting to adjust to its third head coach, fourth offensive coordinator and third conference in four years.
“You want to be really good at what you do,” Rhule said. “College football is a game of matchups. You have to be great at what you do.”
Rhule described the conference changing in terms of its on-the-field performance as a positive in that each team had its own identity because they come from different conferences in different regions.
“The biggest thing you see in the conference is that there are all these different styles of teams,” Rhule said. “SMU is traditionally a run-and-shoot team, Houston is into the air-raid, Central Florida is going to ground and pound. Sometimes you look at conferences like the SEC and [the teams] all have the same style. You look at this conference and there are all these different styles of teams.”
While the philosophy could perhaps be applied on the court as well, it would be harder for the basketball teams to find the silver lining in the conference move.
Temple’s basketball teams had the most to lose when the Big East dissolved and The American was formed. Missing a chance to join the Big East – a conference that boasts rivalries and traditions few other leagues can match – wasn’t taken well at first by the players.
“I was watching TV and I was like, ‘So all the good teams left?’” Lee said. “Who’s going to be left for us?”
“Of course they moved some of the better teams out and they’re bringing in some teams that wouldn’t be up to that level of competition,” sophomore guard Tyonna Williams said. “But basketball is basketball.”
The women’s lone consolation in all the shuffling is the chance to play eight-time national champion Connecticut, coached by Geno Auriemma – Cardoza’s old mentor. Both basketball teams play each conference foe twice a year, which Cardoza said equals at least two nationally televised games for her squad.
“No one wants to play [Connecticut] twice,” Cardoza said. “You want to play them once and hope that you get lucky.”
“It gets to the point where teams like to just watch them warm up for a game,” Cardoza added.
Cardoza plans to use Connecticut to recruit better talent.
“So you know when you’re recruiting, you’re recruiting kids that you’re trying to upend [Connecticut],” Cardoza said. “So [recruits] have to be on par with what they’re trying to do, or at least a notch right below.”
Cardoza also said she’s focused more on selling the Temple name than The American brand. She hasn’t seen a change in recruiting interest with the loss of the Catholic 7, she said.
Dunphy noted that the move to the Big East opened doors in his own recruiting process.
“Initially, when we first heard we were going to the Big East, we got to more homes, got to be face-to-face with more players that we maybe haven’t gotten to be face-to-face with in the past,” Dunphy said. “As a result we were in there with a number of guys that we were close to getting.”
The drop-off of prestige in The American compared to the Big East could have played a role in Temple’s recent recruiting losses.
Rysheed Jordan was considering Temple and St. John’s before the conference realignment was announced. The Philadelphia native and Top 100 recruit ultimately chose St. John’s, a member of the Big East.
“It is going to take a little bit of time to get everybody’s radar up to [The American] being a very good basketball conference,” Dunphy said.
Rhule said that he hasn’t felt a negative shift in recruiting under The American name, partly because the football portion of the conference remained relatively constant and also that he pushes his coaches to recruit with more vigor and at a higher level.
“Going to The American hasn’t closed any doors,” Rhule said. “Kids are always going to take the conference as part of the recruiting process, but right now, based on how we are recruiting, I think we are recruiting at a level that we have never had before.”
Of the football program’s five committed recruits for the Class of 2014, players turned down offers from the Big Ten Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 Conference.
While rumors about Temple’s plans to build a football stadium on campus appear to be more fantasy than reality, the Owls’ current venue, Lincoln Financial Field, stacks up well with the rest of the conference. With a capacity of 68,532, the stadium ranks second in The American next year and will lead the conference in 2014.
However, Temple’s attendance lacks.
In conference games last season, Temple filled 39 percent of its stadium, ranking them last in the conference. Temple’s average attendance of 26,580 was also worst in the conference. Four Big East teams drew more than 40,000 fans per game.
Despite home attendance lacking, the football team put a $9.7 million expansion on Edberg-Olson Hall in July 2012. Rhule said the practice facility not only helps with preparation and production, but recruiting as well.
“I haven’t seen what anybody else in the conference has, but I know what we have,” Rhule said. “And we have as nice of facilities as anyone else.”
Basketball also saw a complete practice facilities overhaul with the $59.8 million upgrade of McGonigle Hall completed last year.
But women’s basketball has struggled to fill the stands, ranking in the bottom half of the soon-to-be American, drawing an average of 941 people per game last season. The men, on the other hand, saw an average of 8,165 fans per game, third in the conference.
Cardoza expects her team, and the rest of the athletics department, to receive a boost from switching conferences.
“I think because it’s new everyone will try and jump on board,” Cardoza said. “You sell [Connecticut] as much as you possibly can…All you want is an opportunity to put people in the stands.”
Through all the changes in the college landscape in recent seasons, one thing that was reiterated throughout was a need for consistency. Without it, the players, coaches and fans won’t have a finished product. That makes it impossible to determine where The American fits into the national landscape.
“We are now entering a period of stability,” Rhule said. “That’s what our players deserve and that’s what I am trying to bring to them and invest to them. This is a conference we are committed and invested in. I think we will look back on this conference in a couple of years and say what a great conference it is.”
Ibrahim Jacobs and Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.