The Way Back Machine: A Bid for the Groundhog Day Bowl?
The reason I chose this issue for The Wayback Machine may be obvious in the context of the controversy over our cutting seven sports teams—the front page assurance from a Temple administrator in 1992 that “Temple Football Can Succeed.” And then there’s the meta-Wayback moment, as the editor reprints a column from 1982 raising the same questions about the viability of Temple Football. Groundhog Day, anyone? (For those who don’t know, that’s the movie starring Bill Murray in which an arrogant weatherman is doomed to relive Groundhog Day until he finally mends his ways.) This is not to say that there’s no hope of escaping this sad treadmill of bright promises that quickly evaporate—dazzling visions of national prominence, rising tides of revenue from licensing and TV, and knock-on effects like increased alumni donations and applications. Perhaps our current President, Athletic Director, and Coach will find a way to reverse our fortunes on the gridiron. I have had the pleasure of meeting all three as well as other athletic administrators and coaches and have been impressed by their clear-eyed assessment of Temple’s situation and by their commitment to new ways of doing things and to academic as well as athletic excellence. It’s been both eye-opening and reassuring to serve on the Faculty Advisory Committee to our athletic academic support center, directed by the able and forthright Justin Miller. But it’s hard to be too optimistic, especially given the hand we’ve been dealt, as the rich paydays promised by rejoining the Big East have disappeared with the implosion of that conference. That’s an outcome I can’t help but think we and UConn helped to precipitate by emphasizing football over basketball, the sport favored by the seven Catholic schools who have literally taken their ball and gone home, taking the Big East name with them. We now face the much-less-lucrative contracts that come with the American Athletic Conference, along with its punishing and expensive travel times to such far-flung spots as Tampa and Dallas. This may be a part of the story behind the cutting of crew, etc. that has not been widely told. If we had been able to stay in the Big East, perhaps we could have funded those teams at an acceptable level and invested in new facilities. However, that same possibility points to the larger issue at stake—sharing information with the faculty, in this case, about athletic finances. We have been told repeatedly that football is the engine that drives college sports, that its potential financial payoff dwarfs even basketball and that we cannot afford to be an also-ran. Indeed, President Theobald has informed us that football was not the reason for the cuts insofar as any savings from cutting football would be more than outweighed by the loss in revenue from broadcasting and licensing. Then, as a colleague at the Faculty Senate pointed out, there would be the devastating effect cutting football would have on the marching band (though a drop to a less-competitive division would not necessarily mean an end to the band). But the administration and the Board would probably gain more support for its position if it was more forthcoming about the athletics budget, the kind of transparency we see in the report from the Board of Trustees reprinted in our Wayback Issue—which, to underscore our Groundhog Day theme, refers liberally to the benefits that will certainly come with membership in The BIG EAST. This is the sort of transparency Michael Sachs rightly calls for in his column as a first step in making proper use of the faculty in decision-making, the sort of transparency that is supposed to come with our new decentralized budgeting system. But the Wayback Issue has more to recommend it than this prophetic material about football (including its mischievous “Temple Football Garland,” which makes me wonder if The Herald could use a bit more levity). I would also point to the report about new tenure procedures, formulated with significant faculty input, as was the case with the revision under President Hart and has not been the case with more recent changes. Also of interest is the call for applicants for Dean of Boyer, a refreshing if quaint approach in our era of outside consultants and secretive search committees. See, too, the announcement of the Temple-School District of Philadelphia partnership initiated by Provost Jim England, referred to in the prior issue of The Herald, as well as the discussion of our then-Director of Libraries about the familiar challenges of space and keeping pace with technological changes. All of these issues continue to play a key role in the life of Temple. I would like to think that we’ll avoid the cautionary tale of Groundhog Day in athletics as well as other areas. But as the movie suggests that is really is up to us to shed the dispiriting sense that we’re stuck in bad patterns of opacity, sugar-plum delusions, and contempt for shared governance. •