Temple Football Gets Redemption; What's Next For Big East Expansion?

<p> After being kicked out of the Big East in 2004, the Owls are back in the conference for the 2012 season.</p>

The Big East has arguably been college football’s most active conference with it comes to realignment, but it appears the final piece (at least for now) is in place. Temple will move its football program from the MAC to the 

Big East in time for the 2012 season. The Owls will bring the rest of their sports to the Big East in time for 2013-14. Temple’s exit fee from the MAC will be paid for by the Big East.

With the defection of West Virginia to the Big 12, the Big East was left with only seven football members for 2012. With most of the teams in the conference having trouble filling out their schedule, bringing in an eighth team for Big East play was the only logical option. Boise State was rumored as a candidate to join a year early, but the Broncos chose to stick around in the Mountain West for another season.

Considering the history between Temple and the Big East, it’s certainly strange to see the Owls helping to bail the conference out of a jam.

Temple joined the Big East for football in 1991, but never found success. The Owls won just overall eight games from 1991-96 and never managed more than four wins in a season during its original tenure in the Big East.

With the lackluster performance on the field and sluggish attendance, Temple was booted from the Big East and forced to play as an Independent in 2005-06 with disastrous results. The Owls won one game during those two seasons, but eventually found their footing with the hire of Al Golden as head coach and the move to the MAC.

While Temple never won a MAC title, the program has made significant progress from where it was in 2005. The Owls have won at least eight games in each of the last three seasons and posted two bowl appearances – 2009 EagleBank Bowl and the 2011 New Mexico Bowl.

Considering where Temple was in 2005 (0-11), the school deserves a ton of credit for working its way back into the Big East and becoming relevant on the national scene in football. Sure, the Big East isn’t going to threaten the other five BCS conferences in any preseason power ranking, but it’s an upgrade over the MAC. And with a boost in funding thanks to the Big East revenue, Temple isn’t going back to the days of finishing 0-11 or 1-10. The Owls are sitting in a good area for recruiting, and playing games in Lincoln Financial Field is much more appealing than Veterans Stadium.

How Will the Owls Fare in 2012?

Although the Owls are on the rise, it might be too much to ask for this team to contend for the Big East in 2012. Running back Bernard Pierce decided to bolt early for the NFL and the offense loses four key senior contributors on the offensive line. The defense should be solid, but must replace end Adrian Robinson. Coach Steve Addazio has done a good job recruiting, and while a conference title is probably out of reach, playing in a bowl game isn’t out of the question.

The Big East Does What It Needs To Do

While commissioner John Marinatto has taken his share of heat for the defections of West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, his expansion decisions have been the right ones for the future of the Big East. Although the conference would have been thrilled to land BYU or Air Force, gaining Boise State, Houston and UCF on the football side is a huge positive, while Temple and Memphis are two solid additions for hoops. The Tigers and Owls also have potential on the gridiron, and their improvement will be critical for the league’s overall standing in the next couple of seasons.

SMU and San Diego State have each had its struggles, but both appear to be back on the right path. The Mustangs have made three consecutive bowl appearances, while the Aztecs are coming off back-to-back bowl bids. Both teams reside in good media markets, and have the potential to grow should they continue to have success on the field.

Expansion was long overdue for the Big East, but this will be an intriguing conference when 2013 rolls around. Boise State has emerged as a national power and will anchor the Western Division. UCF and Houston have proven capable of finishing with 10 wins, but moving to the Big East is a step up in competition. The pieces are in place for both teams to do well in the new conference. And with 12 members, the Big East tentatively plans on having a conference championship game in New York City.

What’s Next For the Big East? More Expansion?

The addition of Temple certainly addresses a major hole in the Big East schedules for 2012, but the conference may not be done with expansion. Commissioner John Marinatto mentioned the Big East would like to get to 14 football members, creating two divisions of seven teams. Team No. 14 is likely to be located out west, which keeps the door open for Air Force or BYU to join.

But there’s another curveball that could be thrown Marinatto’s way. Louisville is believed to be the Big 12’s No. 1 expansion target and could be invited in the next couple of years. With the Cardinals on the rise once again in football, their departure would be a huge blow.

If Louisville leaves, the conference could look at bringing Villanova up to the FBS level. The Wildcats have been exploring the possibility of making the jump, and according to the press release announcing Temple’s move to the Big East, the conference is willing to waive the entry fee if they join within the next three years. The Big East is also offering some financial help to Villanova as it continues to explore moving its football program up to the FBS level.

If the Wildcats don’t work out, East Carolina would seem like a logical fit to become team No. 14.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse

Although Marinatto has pledged to hold Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Big East’s 27-month exit agreement, there have been signs both teams will be allowed to leave for the ACC before the start of next season. Barring a complete change of heart, 2012 will be the Orange and Panthers last season in the Big East. With the conference bringing in six teams next season, losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh would give the Big East 12 football members.

Here’s a scorecard of the Big East’s expansion moves:

The Big East’s football members for 2012

Cincinnati
Connecticut
Louisville
Pittsburgh
Rutgers
South Florida
Syracuse
Temple

The Big East’s football members for 2013:

Boise State
Cincinnati
Connecticut
Houston
Louisville
Memphis
* Pittsburgh
Rutgers
San Diego State
SMU
South Florida
* Syracuse
Temple
UCF

Navy is expected to join the conference in time for the 2015 season.

* Syracuse and Pittsburgh are expected to leave for the ACC in time for the 2013 season.

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