IN RECENT MONTHS, my law school alma mater, Temple, won the American Conference football championship, capping a great year. The school immediately lost coach Matt Rhule, who skedaddled to Baylor to resurrect that scandalized program. The Owls got a new coach who will stay just long enough to ensure a bigger payout at some other school.
Just before these occurrences, I read an article about how a Philadelphia public-school principal ran a marathon to raise more than $90,000 for computers in her school.
Some might say that these things have nothing to do with each other. However, when viewed through the prism of Temple's quixotic quest to bring a stadium to North 15th Street against the wishes of a sizable majority of neighborhood residents, fiscal sense and, above all, demonstrated need, the news items represent the true clash of ideals here. What do we value as a society and a place that seeks to educate its citizens?
Each year, we hear of the unconscionable state of textbooks and basic learning tools in our public schools, which have fewer librarians than the prison system. Our students in state-funded public schools in Philadelphia frequently must do without. On the other hand, students at Temple, the state-funded public school on North Broad Street, regularly get a new building or play-place. On the agenda for these students is a new football stadium for a team that has made some remarkable strides on the field, a point of pride for the city.
Despite significant community concerns, born of both logistical and historical issues, a certain portion of Temple's board and donor base seems intent on building what, if constructed, would amount to the most frivolous, downright insulting project in Philadelphia's history. I suggest it be named Temple University Middle Finger Stadium.
In the last 10 years, the campus has built fantastic additions for its nearly 40,000 students, creating a campus environment unrivaled in the history of a university that was built on commuters and night school (hence the owl mascot). These buildings are used as dorms and learning centers. The school plans on adding a spectacular library soon. All of these projects seem worthwhile and are supported with tax dollars.
Unlike these worthy buildings, Middle Finger Stadium is a frolic of misanthropy and a quixotic quest to create a football culture at a school that has never, ever supported its team.
Even now, despite what you read in the box scores, the team fails to draw even 15,000 actual people people to some games. Viewed on TV, the crowd at the East Carolina game looked as if it would have fit neatly into Charles Martin Stadium at Northeast High.
I challenge the Temple Athletic Department, which lanced off non-revenue sports like a festering boil a few years back, to demonstrate that the reported attendance numbers actually match fully paid tickets. Any Temple statements about attendance that tries to justify the new stadium should be viewed as one views the statements of the North Korean press about the virility of its supreme leader.
Temple has said Middle Finger Stadium will cost about $100 million to build. It has said all of this money is coming from "private sources." Whoever these private sources are, their delirium to build a palace for a program that is perennially "on the rise" is a vainglorious attempt to spend their philanthropic funds precisely on something that offers zero benefit for anyone.
Further, how can an entity that accepts $150 million from the state turn around and say $100 million is coming from "private sources?" From these sources and the Temple stadium-pushers, the mantra is "if you build it, he will come." But judging by past attendance and insane parking issues, he may come, but he may be alone.
Aside from the evidence of the crowds at Temple football games when the opponents are anyone but Penn State or Notre Dame, look at the men's basketball crowds at the Liacouras Center. Despite Temple fielding a competitive team, the building is usually half empty during the season. At least the Liacouras can be used for multiple purposes throughout the year.
Middle Finger Stadium will sit unused for over 350 days a year, mocking Carver High School across the street.
Temple suggests that the money it saves from renting Lincoln Financial justifies construction of Middle Finger Stadium, but when examined as a cost-benefit, it's clear that game-day costs involved in operating half-empty MF Stadium will negate this "gain." Also, if Temple hosts teams such as Penn State, it undoubtedly will want to use the larger Linc.
Temple's "private sources" should build their stadium, if approved by the city, only if they also give the equivalent of $100 million to city schools or pledge $100 million of construction for school district needs.
Kids can't even be sure the drinking water at their schools is safe, yet a group of wealthy people wants to fund a stadium for a team that cannot even come close to filling it, or even half-filling it, most weeks.
I don't argue against massive works projects that will bring hundreds of jobs to Philadelphia, but Middle Finger Stadium cannot exist in a city in which the cost of building it is not matched by a donation to those very kids in the neighborhood who will have to look at it every day.
If Temple gets Middle Finger Stadium, those kids and their education will again get exactly what a middle finger means.