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.

Penn at Dartmouth: Quakers begin Ivy play on national TV

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Penn at Dartmouth: Quakers begin Ivy play on national TV

Penn (0-2, 0-0) at Dartmouth (2-0, 0-0)
Memorial Field, Hanover, N.H.
Friday, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network

Penn certainly isn’t happy with how its first two non-conference games of the season went, but things get more serious now as the Quakers open Ivy League play on national TV. Here’s a look at what’s on tap.

Scouting Penn
Despite coming into the season with high expectations, the Quakers have gotten off to a slow start. After struggling defensively in a 49-28 loss to Lehigh in its season opener, the Quakers committed three turnovers in a 31-17 setback to Fordham last week. One bright spot vs. Fordham was the play of running back Tre Solomon, who led the way in both rushing (93 yards) and receiving (52 yards). But through two games, Penn has given up 494 yards per game, which ranks 110th out of 122 FCS teams.

Scouting Dartmouth
After sharing last year’s Ivy League title with Harvard and Penn last season, the Big Green enter conference play as one of the favorites again. Picked to finish third in the preseason (behind Harvard and Penn), Dartmouth opened the year by upsetting nationally ranked New Hampshire for the first time in 40 years and trouncing Holy Cross. Junior quarterback Jack Heneghan, a first-year starter who currently ranks second in the Ivies in total offense, led the way in last week’s win by completing 18 of 29 passes for 240 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions. Ten different receivers caught passes for the Big Green, who are also employing a running back-by-committee approach with the team averaging over 200 rushing yards per game. Defensively, Dartmouth ranks 15th in the FCS in yards allowed per contest (311.5).

Series history
After winning 15 out of 16 games vs. Dartmouth heading into 2014, Penn has dropped its last two to the Big Green, including a home loss in last year’s Ivy League opener. Overall, the Quakers lead the series 47-34-2, and have won seven of their last nine games in Hanover. 

Storyline to watch
Penn’s dynamic duo of quarterback Alek Torgersen and receiver Justin Watson were on fire in the first half of Penn’s first game. But since then, they’ve struggled to keep their connection purring as Fordham, doubling Watson throughout the day, held Torgersen without a touchdown and limited Watson to just three catches for 33 yards. The two players have since looked at a lot of tape and have tried to figure out new schemes, so it will be interesting to see if they can bounce back at Dartmouth, especially if Watson again faces double-teams. 

What’s at stake?
This is a huge Ivy League opener under the lights with the winner getting an early leg up in the chase for the conference title. The loser can also still end up winning the crown (as Penn proved last season) but it will make it very difficult not to share it.

Prediction
Even though the Quakers are 0-2 and the Big Green are 2-0, Penn probably has the more experienced team. And even though it’s a tough trip to New Hampshire, the Quakers will be out for vengeance after last season’s loss.

Penn 31, Dartmouth 28

Eagles film review: To double or not to double Fletcher Cox?

Eagles film review: To double or not to double Fletcher Cox?

Ben Roethlisberger probably knew he was in for a long game against the Eagles defense on Sunday from the opening snap. Why? Because on the very first play, Fletcher Cox had already driven Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro right into the Steelers quarterback's lap.

After registering 9.5 sacks in 2015, Cox's dominance is not in dispute. That was in an entirely different scheme though. Now that the fifth-year veteran is freed from his responsibilities as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense, he's allowed to go on the attack more as a wide-nine defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment. What does that mean for opposing offenses?

The better question might be what does it mean for Cox's teammates?

As the film shows, the Steelers were faced with an impossible dilemma: try to block Cox one-on-one knowing his potential to take over a game, or double-team the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and force the rest of the defensive line to beat them. It turns out, there was no right answer, because the Eagles' front four is more than capable of winning up front too.

Let's go back to the opening play from scrimmage though. The Steelers probably went in hoping DeCastro could hold his own at least a little bit against Cox — they did just award the guard a five-year contract extension worth $50 million. Take notice of where he begins the play, at about the Pittsburgh 23-yard line.

It looks like DeCastro is on roller skates, as Cox just pushes him straight into the backfield and right on top of Roethlisberger, impacting the quarterback's vision and ability to throw the football. He does manage to get rid of it, completing a pass to Antonio Brown for no gain.

That was only the beginning for DeCastro, who according to Football Outsiders Almanac had not allowed a sack since 2013 coming into this season. Cox would later fix that for him.

Here we are at 2nd-and-18 from the Eagles' 46-yard line in the third quarter, an obvious passing situation with the score 27-3 and the game quickly slipping away from the Steelers. DeCastro has already taken his share of lumps by this point, and Cox is coming again.

No. 66 is six yards deep in the backfield this time, and Cox has help. Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are collapsing the pocket off the edges this time as well, leaving Roethlisberger nowhere to go.

Cox gets to the quarterback and knocks the ball loose for his second sack of the game, the recovery on the play going to Graham. The Eagles score again off of the turnover, and the rout is officially on.

Of course, Cox's ability to single-handedly take over a game is nothing new. Excluding nine plays labeled as screen or quick throws, he was on the field for 26 pass-rush opportunities on Sunday. 12 times, the Steelers tried to block him up one-on-one. The result of those snaps: Roethlisberger was 6 for 11 for 66 yards — a 6.0 average — with the sack fumble.

The problem is the Steelers didn't fare much better when Cox was double-teamed. It works to perfection in the frame above, giving Roethlisberger a huge pocket and all the time in the world on 3rd-and-6 to complete a 32-yard pass to Eli Rogers during the game's opening possession.

This was the exception though, not the rule. In fact, the Steelers hit on more big plays through the air, otherwise the passing attack was even worse when Cox was doubled. In those instances, Roethlisberger was 3 for 9 for 56 yards — a 6.2 average — with a seven-yard scramble and a 19-yard pass interference call, but also three sacks and an interception.

Because even if two bodies manage to take Cox out of the play, then the other three rushers are left in one-on-one. This is the play before the Roethlisberger fumble. On 1st-and-10, guard B.J. Finney and four-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey have the double team.

The tight end and running back are both there to chip, but Barwin, Graham and Bennie Logan at the other tackle spot are essentially all working one-on-one matchups.

Cox is taken completely out of the play. He's probably been moved a good six or seven yards away from where he started and is a total non-factor — well, except for the part where he took the attention away from Barwin, Logan and Graham. All three win their assignment and are collapsing the pocket, leaving no room to step and throw and no room to escape. Logan utlimately gets there first, beating DeCastro.

That type of attention on Cox can create all kinds of favorable situations for the Eagles defense.

This time, DeCastro and Pouncey have the double on Cox, but note that Vinny Curry has slid inside from his normal spot at end and is tucked in front of No. 58 Jordan Hicks on 3rd-and-6 from the Eagles' 22-yard line in the first quarter.

At 6-foot-3, 279 pounds, Curry is an excellent fastball to use situationally on the interior, especially when Cox draws all of the focus from the two best offensive lineman on the field. Veteran guard Foster escorts the pass-rusher to Roethlisberger, who somehow winds up getting out of this jam, scrambling for seven yards and a first down.

Despite the end result, Cox changed the entire outlook of a play, and he barely had to move. Escapes such as these are going to be rare against the wide-nine as well, just as long as there's pressure like this coming up the middle. Getting to the outside when Barwin and Graham are collapsing the pocket from those extreme angles off the edge is not easy.

Of course, a double team isn't necessarily going to stop Cox, even if it is a couple of Pro Bowlers in DeCastro and Pouncey. It's 3rd-and-7 at the Eagles' 13-yard line in the second quarter, and it's still a tight ball game at 10-0, so the defense needs a stop.

It looks like they have Cox contained, but he's not going to be denied.

Pouncey senses Graham breaking inside and leaves DeCastro to make the save there, which isn't going to have the desired result. The guard loses his leverage, and Cox has one of his two sacks for the game, holding the Steelers to three points in the process.

Again, we're not exactly breaking the news that Cox is a disruptive force or anything. That being said, there was some question whether he would live up to the six-year, $103 million contract extension he signed over the summer, or if he was ever worth that in the first place.

The reality is in this wide-nine, Cox can make this defense go. His very presence gives offenses impossible options — block him one-one-one and let him collapse the pocket by himself, or double team him and leave the rest of the offensive linemen on an island with the likes of Barwin, Graham, Logan and Curry.

The Steelers found out the hard way that there is no easy solution, or perhaps even no solution at all.

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