Theobald: Stadium talks are preliminary

Former Temple president Neil Theobald speaks with The Temple News in 2015 in Sullivan Hall. MARGO REED / FILE PHOTO

It’s been a waiting game since Temple announced a plan for an on-campus football stadium in October.  Information has been minimal, plans are continuously described as “proposed,” and concrete logistics concerning construction can be described as wholly premature.

But in the past few weeks since the announcement, it’s fairly apparent students, neighbors of the university, members of administration, staff and faculty have concerns: where such a facility will fit into the Cecil B. Moore Community, its expense (and if it would affect student tuition), parking, noise control, lighting problems, how much use a stadium would get after football season and disruptive construction—the list of speculations seems to be endless at this point.

To answer a few questions, President Theobald sat down with The Temple News the morning of Nov. 13 for the second time this academic year to give a portrait of the stadium, based on available information.

In response to a Nov. 10 editorial, “Misguided Priorities,” the president said Temple’s mission statement has always been to serve the working class. Theobald said tuition has been up 2.3 percent—faster than the rate of inflation—since he arrived at Temple three years ago, while state financial support has gone down.

“This is something I feel extremely strongly about,” he said. “I think we are extremely accessible here. We provide opportunities for lots of students, and we do it by not discounting a higher tuition, but by hopefully keeping our tuition as low as we can. To me, that’s the core of our university.”

What we know

The stadium was first presented to the Board of Trustees in October, Theobald said.

“We weren’t far enough along in terms of fundraising to actually go beyond that,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want my bosses to read about it in the newspaper and say, ‘What is it you’re talking about here?’”

We know the proposed stadium will cost $100 million—$70 million will be streamlined from what was already being paid to the Eagles to play at Lincoln Financial Field, Theobald said, while the other $30 million will come from fundraising.

And that fundraising, he said, is in “very good shape.” Special Assistant to the President Bill Bergman said no one has “signed the dotted line,” but there have been “handshake agreements,” Theobald added.

The money spent on building a stadium could not be allocated to another area of the university, but rather just pushed back into the budget for renting time at the Linc.

“There’s no other use you can make of that [money],” he said. “Either you’re gonna pay the Eagles a large amount of money, or you’re going to build it on campus. There really isn’t a third option. … It isn’t that, ‘Oh, gee, if I didn’t build a stadium I’d have that money available to do something else.’ No, you would pay the Eagles.”

At this point, his primary concerns he said include parking, traffic, noise and lighting. Theobald said he hopes to have questions concerning funding, parking and traffic answered before the Board’s December meeting. Parking and traffic studies are slated to be completed before the meeting, as well. During that meeting there will be a “full-sum discussion” to talk about what’s viable financially for a stadium, he said.

Neighborhood concerns

Residents who lived near the proposed site of the stadium told The Temple News Oct. 26 they were concerned the stadium could infringe on the border between residents and university grounds.

“Basically, that’s where there is space,” Theobald said of the outskirts of campus. “Our goal here was to stay within our own footprint, and the nature of these things are that the center tends to be [where] there’s already a lot of things there, and around the edges are where there is less. So I think that’s just kind of a natural organic growth of any organization, is from the center out. We don’t, in any way, impinge on anyone’s property—it’s all within our property. … But we’ll listen to that and hear those concerns.”

Amos Recreation Center. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN file photo
Amos Recreation Center. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN file photo

Will Mundy, 71, and the block captain of Page Street west of 16th, told The Temple News some of the residents he’d spoken with are concerned with the already existent problems the border has.

“[Residents have] mixed emotions,” Mundy told The Temple News Oct. 27. “Some welcome it, but most of them don’t. … There’s so many issues we have now, the parking and the migration of the students to this area in such droves.”

Theobald projected the university brings about 20,000 people to campus everyday, so a stadium, he said, “would be an extension of what we already do.”

Multiple community members added the lack of communication from the university has raised tension. University representatives reached out to community members for the first time last week, Theobald said.

“Several private dinners” have been held with non-student members of the Cecil B. Moore Community to inform representatives about the possibility of a stadium, Bergman said. Public sessions between the university and the community will be held in coming weeks, he added, but specific dates and times weren’t given.

The Amos Recreation Center—a basketball court, park and community center—sit directly adjacent to the current proposed site of the stadium. Sourcing Temple representatives and City Council, the Inquirer reported in October the proposed layout would cut into both the basketball court and the park.

Moving the center could be an option, Theobald said. However, Bergman said the university is “doing everything we can to leave that there.”

“Part of the design process is to do everything to save that,” Bergman added.

Impact inside the lines

Theobald said representatives with the Linc have expressed interest in hosting the football team for high-profile, sell-out games like against Pennsylvania State University and the University of Notre Dame.

Theobald said the 35,000-seat stadium proposed would be sufficient in space, regardless of team success, though the team could renovate it if more seats were necessary.

Citing the closer proximity to the student housing, Theobald expected the average to be upheld regardless of the football team’s performance, estimating the team’s average attendance at the Linc between 25,000 and 30,000.

“There’s been absolutely zero design done, I know I was at Ohio State two years ago, and they filled in the endzone with seats. … That’s one you’d have to come to when you got to it.”

The stadium proposal comes at a historic time for the program, which currently sits atop its division in the American Athletic Conference with an 8-2 record.

The team’s 7-game winning streak to start the season featured wins over in-state rival Penn State, and was the longest streak to start the season in the team’s 121-year history.

In October 2014, then-deputy director of athletics and current athletic director Pat Kraft told The Temple News the department’s goals were to obtain national relevance in all of the department’s sports, regardless of how long it takes.

“Our goal obviously is to win [The American] championship, but our eventual goal is to win the national championship,” Kraft said. “Now that can take time, but the way that you have a successful department is when everybody in winning.”

Kraft replaced Kevin Clark as athletic director in May, recently reinforcing his desire to see the football program reach the highest level. Clark is now the university’s executive vice president.

“I want to win,” Kraft told The Temple News Oct. 14. “Football is the cream of the crop. That’s who you want to compete with.”

While the stadium proposal does bring attention and benefits to the football program, Theobald said the decision to move the team back on Main Campus doesn’t mean pushing the focus on football to the forefront.

“Are we Ohio State? No. That is not our goal,” Theobald said. “We are a very good academic university that plays a high level of football. … Do we someday want to be some juggernaut in football? I think there’s a balance here of academics that doesn’t necessarily apply elsewhere in the country.”

“Financially, football drives the bus, there’s no doubt about it,” he added. “If you try to run an athletic program around basketball, there simply isn’t enough revenue around that to do it. Football because of TV revenue and marketing and all the things that come with it. … [Football] is the piece you really have to pay attention to, because that’s what allows you to do what you want to do here. So that’s what it does for us more than us trying to be a national power or anything.”

Since its conception in 2014, The American has trailed the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Pacific 12 conferences— referred to as the “Power 5” conferences for television contracts that are the biggest in college sports and their ability to create their own rules without approval from other conferences and the NCAA.

Both Kraft and Theobald said they are content with the conference they are in, Theobald for academic reasons, and Kraft for the opportunities the conference provides the football team.

“I think the current conference we’re in works out very well,” Theobald said of The American. “Other than the Big Ten, it’s the top academic conference in the country. … It’s a good fit for us, we’re trying to do this the right way.”

E.J. Smith and Emily Rolen can be reached at news@temple-news.com or on Twitter @TheTempleNews.

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