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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Temple Moving To Big East Conference

NEW YORK (AP) - Nearly a decade after Temple's moribund football program was pushed out of the Big East, the revitalized Owls are rejoining the conference - and bringing along their potent men's basketball team.
The school will move to the Big East for football next season and all other sports in 2013.

"We didn't deserve, truthfully, to be in the football competition in those years. But it's hard to get kicked out,'' Lewis Katz, chairman of Temple's athletic committee, said at a news conference during the Big East men's basketball tournament Wednesday.

"When we started to negotiate to come back in, I thought it was just a wonderful, wonderful way to remove a blemish on our football program. ... We (now) have a real football program,'' he added. "So we think we're going to give the Big East exactly what they deserve, and really they've given us financially the opportunity to run a stable program.''

Temple football played in the Mid-American Conference last season, while all other programs, including men's basketball, are in the Atlantic 10. The Owls will pay an exit fee of $6 million to the MAC and $1 million to the A-10, with the Big East providing financial assistance in the form of future revenue distributions.

Temple was a Big East member in football only from 1991-2004 but was forced out because the program was one of the worst in major college football. The Owls failed to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team.

Temple played as an independent and eventually landed in the MAC in 2007. While there, it turned its program around and ran off winning seasons the past three years.

"Where we are right now, we're not trying to fumble around and see if we can find our way into major college football,'' coach Steve Addazio said. "This is a plan that's been going on for quite some time.''

In men's basketball, the Owls have long been a power in the A-10 and are the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament this week in Atlantic City, N.J. The Owls will now share Big East turf in Philadelphia with Villanova.
The Wildcats and Owls traditionally play each other every season as part of the Big 5 series with Penn, La Salle and Saint Joseph's. The Owls under Fran Dunphy won this season as Villanova slumped badly.

To ease any concerns from the Wildcats about the move, the Big East will offer financial assistance to Villanova as it explores moving its football program from FCS to FBS. The conference will waive the entry fee if the school meets requirements and is admitted as a football-playing member within the next three years.

"It's critical that the conference and both universities succeed in Philadelphia,'' said Villanova's president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue. "Even as my loyalty and obligation is to Villanova, we recognized early on that we could achieve this win-win-win, which ultimately we did.''

The Wildcats have played at the second-tier level since 1985 and rejected an earlier offer to join the Big East in 1997. Connecticut accepted an invitation that season to start the process to move up to what was known as Division I-A.

Villanova again received an invitation in 2010, but the circumstances weren't right for both parties to come together. The changes in the Big East forced conference leadership to seek immediate help from FBS schools. The Wildcats weren't ready. They play in the 12,000-seat Villanova Stadium - a capacity below the NCAA's mandate of a 15,000 per-home-game average to stay an FBS program. 

Temple shares Lincoln Financial Field with the Philadelphia Eagles and Penn plays at Franklin Field, leaving the Major League Soccer stadium in Chester, Pa., as a potential candidate.

Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro does not know if the Wildcats can become a football-playing member within the next three years.

"It's hard to say,'' he said. "It really depends on the moving parts out there. This conference looks much different than it did five months ago and even a year ago when we were looking at the issue of moving up. We want to be in position, and the conference has tangibly encouraged us, to try and be in a position that if there is an opportunity that comes up during that period of time, that we're poised and ready to do it.''

After Connecticut won at the Big East tournament on Wednesday, coach Jim Calhoun called Temple "a great addition.''

"They've got a tremendous coach,'' he said. "It's a great city for basketball, and I know that it will make an incredible trip there for a lot of folks.''

The Big East has a vacancy next season because West Virginia is being allowed to leave immediately for the Big 12. The school and the conference settled competing lawsuits, and the Big East will receive $20 million from West Virginia in return for setting aside its 27-month notification period.

Big East presidents voted unanimously Wednesday to invite Temple.

With the Owls' departure, the MAC has adjusted its football divisional alignment. Bowling Green will compete in the East Division that will consist of seven schools. The West Division will have six members.

"It's been no secret that Temple has wanted to be in the Big East across the board for many, many years,'' Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said.

A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade also wasn't surprised Temple leapt at the opportunity to put all its teams in one league.

"Given the fact that Temple is still with us for a full year is a luxury,'' she said of her conference, which currently has 14 members. "We're in a position of strength right now, so we can be pretty deliberate if we decide we want to expand, by how many, and what would be the best match.''

The Big East has added seven schools since December, but most of them are planning to join in 2013, so the conference was hoping one new member would replace West Virginia on the schedule next season. The largest impact of Temple's addition, though, may be in men's basketball the following year. The Owls give the league another perennially strong program to help make up for the eventual losses of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pitt and Syracuse have said they won't fight the Big East for an early exit, though Commissioner John Marinatto reiterated that the conference would be open to discussing the Panthers and Orange leaving after the 2012-13 season. Navy is committed to become a football-only member in 2015.

The Big East will eventually have 13 football schools and 18 overall. The conference hopes to someday have 14 in football.

Marinatto and Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw first met 16 months ago at a diner on the New Jersey-New York border. Their discussions intensified over the past few weeks.

The MAC has had 13 football schools since Temple joined in 2007. Last year, the league added Massachusetts as a football-only member beginning in 2012. At the same time, the MAC put in place new exit provisions requiring any football-only member wishing to leave the conference to provide advance notice of two football seasons and pay a fee of $2.5 million.

Temple and the MAC negotiated a deal where the Owls would leave immediately and pay $6 million.
Dunphy declined to discuss the pending move Wednesday, saying his focus was on this weekend's A-10 tournament.

"We're worried about our team and our team playing Friday at noon,'' he said. "I'm thinking about UMass and that's all I'm thinking about.''

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