Joint Press Conference Illustrates the Very Real Issues between Temple, Villanova

Joint Press Conference Illustrates the Very Real Issues between Temple, Villanova

As former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue once told Big East commissioner John Marinatto: "Rivalries are what people really want to see."

It may have only been a press conference where representatives from Temple and Villanova gathered to say nice things about each other, but their past, present and future rivalry was on full display Wednesday night. And in that sense, even though the final announcement was as public as possible, one could get the sense in watching that Temple's addition to the Big East was something of a series of "diner deals" from the start (don't worry, we'll explain later).

First, the basics. Temple has accepted an all-sports invitation to join the Big East. Owls football will begin conference play next season, while all other sports will join in the 2013-2014 academic year. As part of the invitation from the Big East to Temple, the conference will be footing the bill for half of Temple's $6 million exit fee from the Mid-Atlantic conference and providing an interest-free loan to the university for the remaining $3 million, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Michael Bradley.

Now, the juicy parts. The Chairman of the TU Board of Trustees' Athletic Committee, Lewis Katz, said on Wednesday night that "Everything you've heard about Temple and Villanova is accurate." We fully believe that.

It was reported in the fall of 2011, when the Temple-to-the-Big-East reports were first heating up, that Villanova stood strongly opposed to the Owls joining the Big East. It was even alleged that Villanova used its influence to block the Owls from joining the conference as part of its initial expansion that welcomed Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida and Southern Methodist.

Perhaps that's why the conference felt it important to include Villanova president Fr. Peter Donahue in the Wednesday evening press conference and to make it clear that it was Villanova who made the motion (seconded by Rick Pitino's Louisville) to admit Temple. From there, a press conference meant to announce Temple's addition began like a public address about the state of Villanova athletics, specifically football. 

John Marinatto opened the proceedings by thanking Villanova for "taking the lead" in the conference's expansion talks and for its cooperation in overcoming any potential conflicts -- conflicts related to Temple University. Despite Donahue's words that the expansion was "good for the Big East, Villanova and Temple," those conflicts run deep enough that Marinatto would later announce the conference's decision to hire an outside consultant to identify how both institutions will "maintain their unique identities" while simultaneously receiving the full benefits of their membership in a shared market. 

First off, we give a legitimate hat tip to the Big East. Their inclusion of Donahue in the press conference was a fantastic way to promote the public image that all three entities -- Temple, Villanova and the Big East -- are all working in harmony and are pleased to be together. We were pleasantly surprised by the late-breaking news that 'Nova would be represented at the press conference and were impressed that the conference's public relations arm had the foresight to put representatives from both schools in the same room as quickly as possible.

That said, the carry-over of the negative publicity from the fall was in no way invalidated by the shared stage. If anything, it now seems legitimized by the very fact that Donahue was there, as those reports, regardless of their accuracy or inaccuracy, necessitated his presence.

On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Villanova voicing an opposition to sharing a market with Temple. They, the Villanova Board of Directors, have very real economic concerns regarding the move and have no reason to be excited by the addition of Temple for reasons other than how such a move might ultimately benefit the Wildcat athletic program. Be clear, that is the job of the Villanova board and athletic department: to do what is best for Villanova University. Their concerns are not for the advancement of Temple.

On the other hand, Wednesday night's press conference gave off a certain "we (Villanova) were brought to this kicking and screaming and held out for as long as humanly possible" vibe that felt awkwardly and uncomfortably distracting. 

To return to Katz's statement about "everything you've heard" being "accurate," it's tough to tell what he really meant. Presumably, he meant that Donahue and Marinatto's comments about Villanova's cooperation were true (Donahue even told a lengthy anecdote and a joint storm-water sustainability project conducted by the engineering departments of Temple and Villanova to illustrate how the schools have worked together in the past.). But it was Katz's first statement that was in many ways the most revealing, and that worked to color all of his comments moving forward, when he thanked Villanova and the conference with a smile for their acceptance after taking "all the time they needed."

What Villanova received in taking that time was a "vote of confidence" and a financial commitment from the conference to further explore Villanova's potential FBS expansion. What exactly that means -- who knows? To borrow from an oft-used colloquialism: "you give a little, and you get a little."  

And it's tough to say what specifically Villanova "got." Marinatto and Donahue both denied that Villanova received any sort of monetary compensation for welcoming an institution just 12 miles from their own campus; and though Marinatto did say the Big East would ultimately look for a 14th football-playing partner once the conference signs a new television deal, he made mention that it would be the conference's preference to find a Western partner to begin to alleviate some of the travel difficulties of their new non-Eastern members.

In the sense that Villanova "gave," it doesn't seem it had much of an option. In short, the Big East needed Temple. The conference had an immediate scheduling hole to fill after West Virginia opted to pay $20 million dollars to exit early and Temple was one of most viable football programs left on the market.

Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw was quick to quell talk that the move was strictly about filling an immediate need for the Big East, citing what Temple brings to the conference, like it's 160,000 alumni who live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We'll add that the school brings a renewed commitment to a resurgent football program and a basketball program that has been ranked in the Top 25 in the nation the past three seasons and is about to make it's fifth-consecutive Atlantic 10 tournament. Temple basketball will by no means replace a Pitt, Syracuse or West Virginia, but will strongly supplement the remaining basketball schools and add an increased viability moving forward. If that last bit about the "increased viability" is in some way unbelievable, then just check with Rick Pitino, who has been publicly campaigning for the Big East's addition of Temple for those very same reasons for months and consider why any coach would be that vocal about such a specific candidate for expansion. Temple, in a number of different ways, is good for the conference.

In that same vein, consider why Villanova was so reportedly opposed. It isn't just a matter of picking one football program over another. Nor is it only a matter of one school previously having a monopoly on home games versus schools like Connecticut and Georgetown. It's also about the success of the individual programs on the court and/or field. Temple just completed construction on a brand new state-of-the-art basketball practice facility as part of an ongoing $58 million renovation of Pearson and McGonigle Halls. They are in the process of a $9 million expansion of their on-campus Edberg-Olson football complex. Before, Villanova could poach mutually-desired basketball recruits by dangling the bright lights and big stages of the Big East relative to the Atlantic 10. But now, with both schools sharing the same conference schedule, and Temple making these improvements to its own facilities, recruiting will be conducted on an even playing field. The advantage could even swing in Temple's favor.

With all that mind, we shouldn't downplay the aforementioned monopoly of Big East home games, as it is one of the key reasons the conference will be forced to hire an outside consultant to ensure these schools cohabitate. Following the litany of opening statements, a question was posed to the entire panel about Temple potentially using the Wells Fargo Center for more of its basketball home games, as it did with Duke earlier this season and as Villanova does for multiple home games every season. Katz responded that Temple was quite fond of both the Liacouras Center and Wells Fargo Center and would be interested in using the latter more often. It should come as little surprise that commissioner Marinatto then immediately lauded then Liacouras Center and reiterated multiple times that the conference will do its best to stick with the set practices both the schools and their now-shared conference have previously exercised.

To translate: both of these schools will want the largest gates possible and it is going to be difficult to come to an agreement about whether only one or both gets to play their biggest games in a 20,000-seat arena, and it, like a whole host of other issues, could become a point of contention. 

After all, that's why they hired a consultant. And in a sense, that's all you need to know. There are very real conflicts between Temple and Villanova that made their move to the Big East all the more complicated and will continue to present difficulties moving forward. But once those difficulties are ironed out (or even before), there is little denying that Temple brings with it qualities that benefit the Big East, benefits strong enough that Villanova accepted this deal in the broader interests of its conference, even if those qualities conflict with the school's narrower self-interest.

Now, before we close, a brief story as told by Bradshaw. The Temple AD revealed Wednesday that he first met Marinatto in a diner on the New Jersey-New York border 16 months ago, prior to former attending a Temple game at Army and the latter a contest at Rutgers. It was there the two first shared their mutual interest in one another. They met in such a clandestine location, as Bradshaw admitted, for the obvious reason that it wouldn't draw much attention. Such a start to this renewed relationship now seems fitting. From an initial meeting at an off-the-beaten-path diner to the alleged behind-closed-doors opposition from, and eventual cojoling of, Villanova, this partnership seems more or less, as we said at the outset, like a series of a diner deals that have brought together three simultaneously willing and unwilling partners.

There were problems before the deal, there were problems during the deal, and there will no doubt be problems after the deal -- so God Bless whomever inherits that consulting job.

Temple and Villanova played nice Wednesday night. It was the only thing they could do, the only decision that made sense and the only decision that will make sense in the future. Temple is back in the Big East, meaning the three partners who took the stage on Wednesday -- the two schools and their shared conference --  will have to continue to act like friends. Whether or not that's really the case is no longer relevant, because their now-common interests mean they need each other.

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

At times during the 2016 season, the Eagles' defense looked like the best unit in the league. And at other times … it didn't. 

By the end of the season, the Eagles averaged out to be a middle-of-the-road defense. And the way ProFootballFocus ranked it makes sense.

PFF ranked the Eagles' secondary as the absolute worst in the league, but in it's list of front sevens, released on Tuesday, the Eagles came in at No. 2 behind just Seattle. 

Here's what PFF said about the Eagles' front seven: 

"It was a difficult decision between the Eagles and the Seahawks for the No. 1 spot, as this front-seven propped up a hodge-podge secondary to form one of the league’s most effective defenses for a good portion of the season. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox finished with the third- and fourth-highest pass-rushing productivity marks at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s front-seven also features a budding star in second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led all players at the position with five interceptions."

Graham received the highest grade among the Eagles' front seven with a 93.3, while Connor Barwin received the worst at 42.1. Graham was the only Eagles player to make the PFF All-Pro team this year. To prove that stats don't always tell the full story, Graham finished with a half sack more than Barwin (6 1/2 to 6). 

While the Eagles' cornerback trio of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills ranked 79th, 107th and 120th out of 120, respectively, their players across the front seven were much, much better. 

Hicks was ranked as the seventh-best middle linebacker and Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were both top-10 outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses. Graham was the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and Cox was the fifth-best interior lineman.