The Big East Cellar-Dwellers
by Jim Alderson, 10/17/02
Well, what do you know? Tech is actually going to play some home games. Imagine that. On Saturday, too, for the next three weeks, the first time that has happened all season. September 12 seems a couple of seasons ago, as Tech has spent the last five weeks racking up frequent flyer mileage while visiting the Southwest, Midwest and New England. Three victories have been collected along the way, propelling the Hokies up the rankings, creating a buzz around the program not seen in months, and providing fodder for some interesting ESPN conversations between ESPN’s Trev Albert and Mark May. One does wonder if May will attempt to keep that sterling record of picking Tech to lose to LSU, Marshall, Texas A&M and Boston College intact by explaining to viewers that, again, Tech is not that good and could lose to Rutgers and Temple. Go for it, Mark.
Ah, Rutgers and Temple. The good news is that Tech is playing at home, and the bad news is that the next two games are against the BE’s historical doormats, although the Owls have taken advantage of turmoil at West Virginia and what seems to be a full-fledged collapse at Syracuse [although I still have faith PaulP will get the good ship Orange righted before the magical words ‘Virginia Tech’ appear on their schedule; the Orangepersons still have issues with the Hokies] to pick up a couple of unexpected wins the last couple of seasons, stamping the Owls a powerhouse by Temple standards. Not by television ones, however, as neither of Tech’s games against Temple or Rutgers will be televised.
That the number 3 team in the country could not garner television interest for games against these dogs says much about the perception in which the football programs at both are held. It also creates a nagging suspicion that Tech’s disappearance from the air and cable waves could create an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality among poll voters and cause that team lurking just behind us, Ohio State, to take advantage of its higher profile and more visible games to leapfrog Tech in the rankings. Thanks a lot, guys.
As is usually the case each year when either of these teams joined at the hip and loss column pops up on Tech’s schedule, the question arises as to why both have been so miserably rotten over the years. As stated, Temple has stirred a bit, but their unexpected BE wins last year and this were hollow victories, as the chances are quite good that both WVU and Syracuse will still be playing football in the Big East beyond the time that Temple is relegated to the ash heap of Division I-A history.
Very soon, Temple is going to be toast. For all of the big talk about keeping Temple football alive as a viable I-A entity after their BE ouster, nobody ever gets around to talking about how the Owls scanty football budget will survive the loss of the Big East television money that the Owls have grabbed for a decade without contributing the first nickel to the pot. The short answer is: they won’t. The problem at Temple has always been the administration’s lack of commitment to big-time football, or even an understanding of Division I-A, and the miniscule funds the program has had to work with cannot stand the budgetary hit they are soon going to take. Membership in either CUSA or the MAC will do nothing to address Temple’s core financial dilemma.
Temple Coach Bobby Wallace has done about the best job that could be expected under such circumstances, but his recent statements about how his recruiting has gone south due to conference uncertainties, causing him to mine the junior college ranks for talent that will be leaving Temple at the exact same instant the Owls leave the Big East, shows you what he thinks, which is there won’t be much major college football played in Philly in 2005. That, and Wallace angling for another job almost before he had even set foot on Broad Street tells you what will happen there. Temple can only screw up Tech’s television opportunities and SOS a couple more times, and when they are gone, I say good riddance.
[Speaking of Wallace: I have noticed that the administrators of other schools pay no more attention to my advice than Tech’s, but that doesn’t stop me from offering it. It seems the situation at East Carolina between football coach Steve Logan and his boss, AD Mike Hamrick, has deteriorated to the point that one is probably not going to be there much longer. AD’s generally win those battles, meaning the Pirates might be in the market for a new coach. I doubt very seriously that Bud Foster would be interested in a non-BCS job, but Bobby Wallace would, and he would be an excellent choice].
The situation at Rutgers is much different from that at cash-poor Temple. The Knights, due to having their budget augmented by annual stipends from the taxpayers of New Jersey [ a waste of tax money that makes Pentagon spending practices seem frugal], have everything it takes to field a top-notch football team. Budget, facilities, available high school talent, proximity to one of the world’s great cities and media markets, Rutgers seemingly has it all.
‘Having it all,’ however, should not include seventeen straight conference losses and a 7-32 record since 1998. When the Big East was formed, many, including me, thought Rutgers would be the team that really cashed in on its new conference affiliation. They should have accomplished at least what Tech has over the last decade. Imagine if Rutgers did indeed have a quality program and was coming to Lane Stadium with, say, a 5-1 record that included that upset at Tennessee, giving the Knights a national ranking. The atmosphere and crowd would be quite a bit different from what we are likely to see Saturday, the game would not be played in virtual media obscurity, and WSET would not be inflicting upon its viewers the exciting game between Wake Forest and Clemson.
That is not the case, however, and the question remains: Why can’t Rutgers win? It is easy to point to Terry Shea, destined to be rightfully known as one of the worst coaches ever to infest a sideline. Shea took over a quasi-respectable program in 1996 and ran it straight into the ground. One has to only glance at the number of New Jersey kids starting for other teams around the area, making it seem that everybody recruits New Jersey but Rutgers, to realize what a dud was Shea in all facets of running a program. Ron Dickerson of Temple ranks right down there among lousy coaches, but Shea’s record is the more compelling because, while Dickerson operated on a shoestring, Shea did it with money. Greg Schiano may yet turn things around, but he is still feeling his way while attempting to dig out from under the mess he inherited.
While it would seem impossible to have a problem worse than Terry Shea having coached your team, Rutgers does have it in a lack of support for quality football from certain university elements. The Rutgers 1000, what should be a goofy bunch of whiners ignored by the larger community, has managed to make its demand that the school discontinue Division I-A sports [some would say they have accomplished their goal, at least when it comes to football] heard in some high places. Rutgers is preparing to hire a new president, and that bears watching to see exactly how much influence the Rutgers 1000 wields.
The rise of Tech’s program in the Nineties benefited immensely from the solid support shown by Dr. Torgersen, and the Rutgers team will need the same kind of administrative support from its new president. If the Rutgers 1000 gets their way and somebody is hired that does not wholeheartedly support I-A sports, this could be trouble. The sooner ragamuffin Temple is replaced by a Connecticut which is showing a strong commitment to football, the better, but the Big East that suffers from credibility problems from the middle of the standings down needs what a strong Rutgers program in the world’s media capital can bring to the table.Two home games, two Saturdays, two chances to tailgate and watch the Tech team in person. It will be good to back in Lane Stadium. It is unfortunate, however, that circumstances caused not by Tech but the other guy makes these games not quite what they could be.
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.