- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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So this is what the final leg of expansion has come to for the Big East, welcoming back a team that was kicked out for terrible performance only eight years ago.
Well, eight years might as well be eight decades considering the way realignment has turned conferences into corporate raiders, all too eager to destroy each other to preserve themselves. At turns, expansion has been part "Lord of the Flies," part Generation Me. But it has completely taken the biggest toll on the Big East -- turning a conference that had already lacked national respect into one that is a collection of teams formerly known as non-automatic qualifiers.
As in most of its other moves in the past four months, the Big East adding Temple to the football fold immediately had a sense of desperation attached. The Big East appeared to have no plan once West Virginia bolted for the Big 12 to the tune of $20 million. Playing with seven members for 2012 was not feasible. The Big East called on Boise State to join a year early. The Broncos thought the financial price too steep.
So Temple became the only viable option. The Owls may have been tossed out of the Big East in 2004, but their football program has been rejuvenated and the school wanted desperately back into the Big East fold. Bygones should be bygones, right?
One-win seasons ended shortly after Big East membership ended. Joining the MAC and hiring Al Golden helped the program turn a necessary corner. Slowly but surely, the Owls began to win. The breakthrough came in 2009, when Golden led Temple to a 9-3 regular season and its first bowl berth since 1979. The following year, the Owls went 8-4 but were passed over for a bowl game.
When Golden left for Miami, the Owls went and hired one of the best assistants in the nation in Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. He led the Owls to a 9-4 season -- Temple's third straight winning season -- and a win over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, which was just the second bowl win in school history.
So perhaps the story today should not be what expansion has done to the Big East. That storyline has been rehashed about as many times as John Marinatto has told us all about the value of expanding the league footprint from coast to coast. Losing Syracuse, Pitt, TCU and West Virginia painted the Big East into this corner. We could play Sunday Morning Quarterback about whether perceived passiveness or ineptitude got the Big East here. Bottom line: Adding Temple had to be done.
Therefore the story today should be the second chance that has been afforded Temple -- much in the same way TCU got its second chance in the Big 12. Like the Owls, TCU was the bottom feeder of the Southwest Conference for years before getting kicked to the curb in 1994. There was little need for yet another Texas school, especially one that had made a habit of winning only a handful of games a season.
TCU worked its way back up, making it to multiple BCS games and securing an invite to the Big East before its true love, the Big 12, came calling last year. Temple has yet to achieve the same success as TCU. For all its improvements, Temple is still in its infancy as a winning program, and never once played for the MAC title -- despite being favored to win its division in 2010.
An added bonus this time around is the inclusion of its entire sports program, giving the Big East a solid hoops power to help make up for the heavy losses it took in that sport. Remember, this is the Big East we are talking about, and basketball has absolutely played a role in the additions of Memphis and Temple.
No matter how this move is perceived on the outside, Temple -- perhaps more than all the others -- must show the Big East made the right call in re-extending an invitation. No more falling back into the 1-10 doldrums, the winless conference seasons. The Big East may look different, but the league is still a step up from the MAC. Have the Owls made enough progress in just a handful of seasons to be a legitimate contender? Or at least a team that can continue to go to bowl games?
The answer may very well depend on the Big East, the most unpredictable league in America. Adding eight new teams only adds to that unpredictability.