Owls’ conference prestige could hinge on Big Ten

Freshmen ineligibility could lead to Temple becoming a destination for top-tier athletes.

Temple football fans cheer on the Owls during their second conference game, a 35-24 win against Tulsa. | Donald Otto TTN
Temple football fans cheer on the Owls during their second conference game, a 35-24 win against Tulsa. | Donald Otto TTN

EJ SmithA fast-talking James Franklin called his shot.

During the Penn State coach’s opening statement, one of his first declarations was to dominate the state.

In fact, he said it twice.

As the dust settles on the Langhorne native’s first recruiting class, the former Vanderbilt coach boasts four of the six Pennsylvania products ranked in ESPN.com’s Top 300 recruiting class for 2015, and six more outside of the Top 300.

The Owls, on the other hand, managed three Pennsylvania natives to go along with seven New Jersey athletes, none of which were in ESPN’s Top 300 list.

Franklin’s success all but sums up the uphill recruiting battle that schools in the American Athletic Conference consistently face against schools in the country’s biggest five conferences – the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Southeastern conferences, frequently referred to as the Power 5.

However, a report from The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student-run newspaper, indicated that the Big Ten could be considering a mandatory redshirt year for freshman athletes in football and men’s basketball in an attempt to bolster the two sports’ graduation rate, which is currently less than 75 percent.

This potential legislation could be the spark The American needs to consistently compete with the Power 5 schools in recruiting, as it would present early playing opportunities for top-flight freshmen to showcase their talents early.

The legislation, headlined “A Year of Readiness,” is allegedly in the preliminary stages, as it seeks feedback from Big Ten members. Despite the early stages, though, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta said the rumors have already hurt his recruiting efforts.

“I’m dealing with more issues on [freshman ineligibility] in recruiting,” Matta said to NBC Sports during a press conference last Saturday. “We’re getting crushed in this thing … I’ve been dealing with that the last couple of days.”

Matta, who was skeptical on the validity of the proposal, also said the Big Ten would not make the move on its own, claiming other conferences would need to be a part of the move.

“If it does happen, which it’s not going to, but if it does, it’s not just the Big Ten, it would be college basketball,” Matta added.

Temple, who has enjoyed freshman athletes including now-junior quarterback P.J. Walker and men’s basketball freshman forward Obi Enechionyia, would be unlikely to welcome the new policy.

Luckily for them, they may not have to.

Last year, the NCAA board voted to allow Power 5 schools autonomy, giving them the ability to change rules without the approval of conferences outside the Power 5 like The American. Therefore, even if the Power 5 conferences opted for freshman ineligibility, The American and other outside conferences would not have to comply.

This legislation could turn Temple and other schools on the outside looking in on the Power 5 schools into hotspots for talented athletes looking to play early.

The prospect of keeping eligibility for freshmen amid the potential change in legislation could give The American some much needed help.

In the most recent football recruiting class, Cincinnati led all schools in The American with the 59th-best recruiting class in college football, according to rivals.com.

Temple has been no stranger to these struggles, falling to No. 73 in the same ranking. Despite signing two four-star recruits, the Owls’ place lower than all 64 schools currently slated in the Power 5.

In addition to losing in the recruiting battle, The American has had trouble retaining its top-flight programs, losing Louisville after one year to the ACC, and Rutgers to the Big Ten.

But in a hypothetical landscape where Big Ten schools mandate a freshman to sit out, things would change for many athletes’ college decisions, including Temple’s highest-rated recruit.

“[Freshman ineligibility] would have changed my decision,” Temple’s incoming four-star freshman running back T.J. Simmons said. “I think that would affect a lot of kids’ decisions. A lot of kids want to play early.”

EJ Smith can be reached at esmith@temple.edu.

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