Unlike a colleague, I did not go to Harvard. I went to and loved Temple University, which at its heart was a commuter school with an ugly campus surrounded on all sides by North Philadelphia wasteland, a place where basketball was king, but a king in memory, and football only a rumor.
There is Temple, feted at Madison Square Garden by Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino and John Marinatto, and OwlSports.com celebrating with flashing text, and Philadelphia firmly and finally under the lee of a Big East that's not so big nor eastern, and we're told this is a banner day. Temple, at long last the belle of the ball, sought after by drooling suitors who whisper in their ear "you're safe now" and "I promise I'll treat you right this time" and "we own you." A Cinderella story where Temple wears the glass slipper not because it didn't fit the wicked stepsisters, but because those stepsisters turned it down. We deserve better than this, they said. We don't, Temple says.
The vagaries of birth and time put me at Temple during a four-year stretch in which John Chaney's luster had worn to a nostalgic grit and the NCAA Tournament wasn't within smelling distance. The football team won seven games in four years under a coach who now has a losing record in Division II, and the Big East cast them out to wander the earth. Live if you can, die if you must, but do it on your own. A team without a conference is a man without a state; he is subject to all nations, not master of himself.
Temple is in the Big East because TCU is not and Boise State is not and West Virginia and Syracuse and Pitt are not. We accept this because we've accepted by now that conferences are mercenary and programs must be mercenaries to put dinner on the table and recruiting letters in the fax machine. Loyalty and geography as concepts are not dead, but merely quaint. Neither mattered when the MAC took Temple in, perhaps out of pity since the nearest MAC school was 330 miles as the bus drives. (There were no flights; 1,500 paid fans in a 70,000-seat stadium doesn't cover jet fuel.)
Rejoining the Big East is a homecoming for the homeless. The Prodigal Son being welcomed only because he can contribute to the family coffers. Not with open arms, but with an open hand.
The Big East is no prize. Realignment is a haphazard, capitalist version of the promotion and relegation in European soccer, but this move is diagonal, unspeakably close to lateral. This is going from Serie B to Ligue 2. It is a hopeful, gloomy consolation. It is putting off that trip on the Titanic to get on the standby list for the Lusitania.
There exists a photo of me senior year, face painted cherry and white with the Temple "T," joining literally tens of other fans to watch another loss in a winless season, because college football is awesome and it's the perfect filling for a daylight-drinking sandwich. That won't change in the Big East. It's nice to win, but it's okay if not, and it's lovely to get a four-star recruit or two, but acceptable if not, but as long as we have FBS football, I'm happy. But in a world heading for superconferences, Temple is and should be thrilled they've latched on to one of the pretenders, rather than languished with the never-rans. The college football changes are seismic and sporadic, and the Owls have survived at least one upheaval. That, at least, merits a press conference.
Photo via Flickr