The business of collegiate athletics is a relay race.
At least, that’s what Temple’s former athletic director Bill Bradshaw thinks.
Bradshaw, who oversaw athletics from 2002-13, is largely credited for managing one of the most significant transitions in the history of the department.
Bradshaw was athletic director during the recent resurgence of the football team, which went to two bowl games and received a $10 million upgrade to its practice facility in the latter half of the decade. He hired Fran Dunphy to coach the men’s basketball team in 2006 and the Owls have since played in six consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“When somebody hands you a baton, you take it and you run with it,” Bradshaw, who retired last summer due to personal reasons, said in a phone interview last week. “But you always try to hand it off in better shape than you took it.”
Most memorably, Bradshaw was part of the negotiations that led to the 2012 announcement that most of Temple’s sports would be competing in the Big East Conference. After the Big East folded last year, the Owls became a member of the American Athletic Conference.
Temple’s fragile stake in the new conference, which is full of schools with large athletic budgets, state-of-the-art facilities and a histories of financial success in Division I football, was one of the main reasons Athletic Director Kevin Clark said he recommended the university eliminate seven non-revenue sports last month.
In the new conference, Temple has the second-smallest budget ($41.5 million), but is tied for the most number of sports it sponsors (24), according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education. That discrepancy was particularly troubling to Clark and less troubling to Bradshaw, according to interviews with them.
Bradshaw said most universities, including Temple, have a “cafeteria approach” in choosing what sports to emphasize. He insisted that institutional support doesn’t always equate to competitiveness, pointing out that the Owls’ football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams have been successful in recent years despite their relatively small budgets.
Bradshaw said that the notion of dropping some sports was “always under discussion” under the administrations of former presidents Ann Weaver Hart and David Adamany. He said he was “disappointed, but not totally surprised” to hear about last month’s reduction.
“I think that’s something the new president has wanted to do,” Bradshaw said, though he insisted it had nothing to do with his decision to retire. “That was always in the crosshairs.”
While Bradshaw was able to avoid any cuts during his tenure, the issues that many Temple sports have today were no less dire under his administration and have been highly scrutinized in the new conference.
A review conducted by The Temple News last spring, using 2011-12 data, showed Temple ranked last in the new conference in operating expenses for its non-revenue sports by about $12,000 per sport. A further review showed that Temple’s facilities, for most sports other than football and basketball, were well behind compared to what others have in the conference.
Bradshaw admitted the decision to change conferences mostly considered Temple’s revenue sports, saying “those conversations are always more compelling” when discussing football and basketball.
“You compare a lot of things inch for inch, dollar for dollar,” Bradshaw said about benchmarking the revenue sports. “In terms of non-revenue sports, it’s not as critical. Not that they aren’t important, just not as critical.”
The non-revenue sports stacked up much better in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Owls’ home for all sports other than football from 1982-2012. Records show that last year Temple had the largest athletic budget out of all the A-10 schools by far, about $12 million more than the University of Massachusetts. Facilities, too, were much more in line with that conference.
Historically, the football team has competed in a separate conference from the non-revenue sports, which have been able to stay competitive against schools with more modest budgets and facilities. However, in the new conference of football schools, some of the financial discrepancies are alarming.
Temple spent $62,510 in operating expenses combined on its men’s and women’s tennis programs during the 2011-12 year, which ranks last by far among The American schools. Most schools spent more on just one of their programs than Temple did on both of its combined.
Effective July 1, the baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics, men’s crew, women’s rowing and men’s indoor & outdoor track & field teams will be eliminated.
Bradshaw said non-revenue sports were considered as a “frame of reference” when making the move to The American, but insisted that overall, Temple is better off with its sports united in a conference of schools with “similar institutional commitment” to athletics.
“We realized that there was going to have to be a commitment,” Bradshaw said about the non-revenue sports. “The time to do it is when you get into a new conference. A commitment to those sports to be competitive, or just a philosophy that winning in that league in that sport wasn’t as significant as keeping that sport alive.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.