With Temple University about to face off against Indiana in the next round of the NCAA playoffs, Neil D. Theobald doesn’t pause – not for one second – when asked where his loyalties lie.
“There is no doubt on that one,” the Temple president said Friday evening. “I’m all in for the Owls.”
Not so surprising for a Temple president.
Except that he used to be an Indiana Hoosier –as recently as December.
Theobald became Temple’s president in January after working for 20 years in Indiana, most recently as the school’s senior vice president and chief financial officer.
He’s an avid basketball fan, too. Been so for decades and was a season ticket holder in Indiana for 20 years. He watched the first half of the season through Dec. 31 as a Hoosier.
“It is a big part of the job” – attending the sports events and bonding with students, he said. “The students are really interested in this. So it isn’t just my love of basketball. It’s also also my love of the university.”
Theobald traveled to Dayton, Ohio on Friday to watch round two of the playoffs where Temple beat North Carolina State 76-72. Wearing his red tie covered in Temple “T’s,” he watched the game with more than 250 other Temple employees, parents and fans.
“Oh man! It was an exciting game,” he said. “I’m absolutely drained.”
Then he had to battle intense traffic back to the airport.
He flew to Philadelphia so that he can greet more than 3,000 admitted Temple students and their parents on campus on Saturday. He’ll fly back to Dayton after that so he can be there for the Indiana game on Sunday.
“I can’t wait!” he said. “I love the game. I love the kids, the coaches, the strategy, the band.”
That’s even though he knows he’ll be in the heart of Hoosier country, with the Indiana state line only about 30 miles from Dayton.
“We’ll be surrounded by IU fans,” he said. “They were here in force today.”
Indiana beat James Madison University to advance in the competition.
If Indiana were playing any other team besides Temple, he’d be pulling for them, Theobald said, recalling his time there fondly. Indiana has won four national championships and Philadelphia none.
But Philadelphia, Theobald points out, has won more than 1,800 games, making it the sixth team in history to make that mark.
“Temple has won more games,” he said.
Before Theobald was at Indiana, he worked at the University of Washington and was a season ticket holder there for 15 years.
“I was a Husky, a Hoosier and now an Owl,” he said. “I’ve moved from coast to coast.”
Indiana University’s president - Theobald’s former boss - is ready for the match up. He wishes the best for Theobald in all things Temple – except for one thing.
"Neil Theobald was a wonderful colleague during our time together at IU and Temple is lucky to have a man of his vision and leadership as its president," Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement. "I am rooting strongly for him to succeed in his new role and think he is going to be an outstanding university president.
"Having said that, I will be rooting against Neil for the first - and hopefully last - time this Sunday when IU plays Temple. It's nothing personal; but as Neil knows all too well, we take our basketball pretty seriously in Indiana, and we have high hopes for the remainder of the season. I am sure Neil will understand."
McRobbie and Theobald will see each other again in Dayton on Sunday.