OPINION: Blindside by the Blind Temple Board of Trustees

The 2013 Homecoming game of Temple's football program at Lincoln Financial Field. Higher attendance than normal because of the Homecoming.

The 2013 Homecoming game of Temple’s football program at Lincoln Financial Field. Higher attendance than normal because of the Homecoming.

This is my rare attempt at an editorial. Opinions on this hyperlocal story that I will not cover for any news organization in the Philadelphia area are my own.

I don’t think it’d be widely disputed that $3 million in college athletics is a drop in the bucket.

It’s a calamity that that’s reality. But… it’s reality.

If $3 million, out of a total $44 million budget, could save the jobs of nine college coaches and the pride of 150 student-athletes, wouldn’t college officials try to find some way to create a more balanced budget and save the livelihoods of all affected?

Nah, apparently not.

Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made. And the folks at my alma mater, Temple University, made the decision to cut seven sports programs, affecting those 150 student-athletes and nine full-time employees.

Those people who made that decision include people the majority of the student population never met. People whose names the student body probably doesn’t know. They’re people who apparently use loose language with student journalists, and who apparently have no sympathy for the people most affected by the decision.

I’ve learned a thing or two about how organizations should handle bad news that needs to be delivered. The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors (visitors = trustees in Virginia, apparently) decided to force out its president of less than two years, only to reinstate her after public outcry. And just like that, everything’s back to normal with few questions answered.

These two scenarios are very similar. At UVa, no active member of the board, especially the rector (rector = chair in Virginia, apparently), would speak to media to defend his or her position. Members would shy away when reporters stuck microphones into their faces. They wouldn’t return emails or phone calls. The UVa way has apparently become the Temple way.

A difference, though, is that Temple didn’t seem to make its budget decision as hastily. Trustees knew the consequences of their actions. They likely expected the backlash. But they’re not owning up to it.

Their reasoning is ridiculous.

“Let’s build a football stadium on campus.” Yes, for the faulty football team whose post-Al Golden years are, with maybe one exception, all for naught. I’m sure the anti-gentrification folks in North Philly will love it.

“Let’s put that $3 million toward football and basketball.” Yes, for the two most profitable sports at Temple that, truly, aren’t all that profitable (or, in the case of football, doesn’t come close to profitable).

“Let’s allow the athletes to keep their scholarships or transfer.” Yes, because there’s nothing like spreading Temple pride than telling people y’all recruited that they’re not wanted anymore.

It’s safe to say most of the outrage is not personal toward the football and basketball teams. They may get more publicity, but they should be treated just the same as their fellow student-athletes. The athletic department may care about the win-loss record at the end of the season, but it’s not always a reflection of how much work the student-athletes put into their teams.

They all work hard. They’re led by coaches and mentors who teach them to work hard. And now, the board of trustees shows the results of their efforts. Because the return on investment isn’t there. (But it is for the football team?)

The lack of acknowledgment and accountability of the issue, despite a strong showing of opinions at a recent board meeting, is simply embarrassing.

It’s embarrassing for the student-athletes who now believe their opinion doesn’t matter to Temple’s bigwigs. It’s embarrassing for alumni who carry pride in their school but who can’t deny this huge blemish. It’s embarrassing for the university that continues to receive bad press for an ill-handled policy decision.

Transparency can go a long way. It’s a shame that those at the helm of our public institutions from Philadelphia to Charlottesville continue to skirt the discussion of their decisions’ impacts and carry on business as usual.

Because for more than 150 people at Temple, it’s not business as usual. It’s business that has changed their lives.

There are things to learn here. First, journalists should not stop pressing the board and the administration for answers and explanations. Eventually, it will build enough to where they will cave.

Second, there needs to be more attention toward and transparency within the decision-making boards at universities. In this case, seeing the potential cuts coming could’ve been mildly better than being blindsided by a decision by a seemingly blind board. But in both situations, the reality is still the same — and disastrous.

And finally, Temple University is seriously delusional if it thinks an extra $3 million could create enough student and alumni involvement in a football team that struggles to get two wins a season. Money cannot buy fandom. Pride can.

And that pride, for many in the Temple community, is shaken.

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