How Temple Football Pulled Everything Down With ItS

Temple University announced today that it will drop seven intercollegiate sports: baseball, softball, men's crew, women's rowing, men's gymnastics, and men's track and field, both indoor and outdoor. This is a cautionary tale about trying become a football school.

The cuts will save just $3 million of Temple athletics' $44 million annual budget, or not much more than it costs to run one of the FBS's worst football teams (and run it at a loss). About 150 athletes students are out of luck, though the school announced it will honor their scholarships until they graduate or transfer. The nine full-time coaches aren't so lucky.

At a macro level, this is about the general unsustainability of the vast majority of college sports programs, despite already being almost entirely subsidized by other students, and at public schools, all state taxpayers. It's a bubble that's been bursting nationally for years. But if amateur sports are a societal good, a notion I'd argue is axiomatic (though I'm willing to listen to arguments), then you have to examine not the cost, but the opportunity cost.

Temple, an urban, Northeastern university with a large commuter student body and a long basketball tradition, noticed the wave of big TV contracts being handed out and wanted a piece of the pie. But the Big East had kicked them out. Rather than drop out of Division 1A, as seemed likely and logical, Temple stayed independent and decided to spend. They moved into an NFL stadium, paying more than $265,000 per home game in rent. They clambered into the MAC, but kept their eyes on a bigger prize. Moderate on-field success spurred further budget inflation. Finally, they made the leap back to the Big East—just as the Big East fell apart.

Temple, once the program that no conference wanted, finds itself in a conference no program wants to be a part of. The realignment era in college football has been insanely lucrative for those teams savvy enough to jump at the right time and to the right place, but that naturally came at the expense of those left behind—or more painfully, those who made the wrong choices.

It's likely any choice would have been the wrong one for Temple, which has always lost money on football, and now, by actually spending on it, is only losing more. Much more than any other sport at the school, obviously. But it's dragging down everything else. The basketball team, the only program that comes close to turning a profit, finds itself ripped from the A-10, an ideal fit. The fringe programs like gymnastics and baseball(!) find themselves eradicated altogether, their paltry budgets adding up to enough of a chunk to hold off the trustees for another few years. The chase for bigtime football is a pyramid scheme, and the Owls remain afloat at the expense of those sports on the bottom. What happens when the con man runs out of suckers?

We're not there yet. Despite a decade of throwing good money after bad, Temple is determined to push on. Just two weeks ago the university president announced that a new, on-campus football stadium is in the school's plans.