The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

March 13, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Demise of Big East sad to see

MORGANTOWN — A day before West Virginia University was to play its first game in the Big 12 Conference Basketball Tournament, Notre Dame reached an agreement to leave the Big East, the final step in destroying what once was a wonderful collegiate athletic conference.

The symbolism there cannot be ignored, for in the end, as the conference was struggling for at least a survival of its identity, the two legs upon which it was standing were West Virginia and Notre Dame … the Mountaineers a team that was good enough to reach the Final Four in basketball while being a national contender in football and the Fighting Irish being … well, being America’s team to love or to hate.

Once upon a time the Big East was where it was happening, Miami fighting for football championships, Michael Vick capturing the imagination of the football nation with his inventive play at quarterback, Syracuse or Georgetown or Villanova or any of how many other schools battling for the national basketball title.

My goodness, in 1985 the Final Four had three Big East schools — Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s.

It was made up of schools who, for the most point, were located in the same geographical area and that held its basketball tournament not in the middle of nowhere, which is Kansas City, but in the nation’s greatest athletic building in its most vibrant city, Madison Square Garden and New York.

A week ago Leigh Montville, one of the nation’s finest wordsmiths out of New England, wrote a wonderful piece about the death of rivalries that has been brought about by realignment and what it has done to our sporting world.

Montville summed up the cause of this quite succinctly by saying:

“The reason for this lack of interest can be debated at different levels by different people — Boston is not a college basketball town, fans will only support a winner, weather considerations, etc. — but the reason for my own lack of interest is simple: I don’t care about the teams on the BC schedule. I suspect that is the case, too, with a lot of other potential customers.”

It is no different here, and we are going to limit our discussion to basketball because football is a different animal with one game a week and with the Big 12 being in all reality a football conference, although even with Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, it didn’t help itself any in football by letting Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M and its Heisman Trophy winner get away last year.

You can sell out a football stadium because a football game is as much a social event as a sporting event, a weekend party in which only three and half hours are taken up inside the stadium.

Even there, though, say what you will, I miss games with Pitt and with Miami and with Virginia Tech … I miss John Thompson, whichever one is coaching Georgetown in basketball at the moment, and Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun.

Heck, I even miss the Big East basketball officials, maybe more than anything else.

The way the world worked out, WVU had no choice but to do what it did, but that does not mean it is as good as it was or as much fun or that it even helped a Mountaineer athletic program, which may or may not be able to compete at such a level.

Football, in its first Big 12 season, goes 7-6. The basketball team is under .500 for the first time in more than a decade. The wrestling team goes off at the end of the season and competes in a dual meet with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State and losses all three matches by a combined 135-12 score.

Ticket prices continue to rise, games are televised at unfriendly hours, road games wear on the teams, and the travel is such that fans who want to attend games find it either cost prohibitive or so far as to be inconvenient.

Home football attendance dropped slightly this past year even though a year before it had both Norfolk State and Bowling Green coming to town while this past year’s non-BCS opponent, James Madison, was played in Washington, D.C., at a neutral site.

True, the team was not as strong as as in 2011, but Oklahoma and Kansas State weren’t in town, either, although LSU was.

The point is, it just isn’t the same, and it never will be. You aren’t playing against a school 80 miles up the road and, in truth, Oklahoma doesn’t mean any more to WVU that WVU does to Oklahoma, who has Texas and Oklahoma State to occupy its animosity while WVU wanders aimlessly without a rival.

College sports is supposed to have Texas playing Texas A&M, Kansas playing Missouri, Oklahoma playing Nebraska and West Virginia playing Pitt, and until it realizes that, it is going to deteriorate in those places that have had to jump around for survival.

Email bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

1
Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Smallwood puts future in jeopardy

    The last thing West Virginia’s struggling football program needed as twilight was setting on Bastille Day in Morgantown was to have one of its own whisked off to the North Central Regional Jail on a fugitive warrant from another state, especially a player who had figured to play a key role in the resurrection of a program gone bad.

    July 16, 2014

  • WVU player arrested in Delaware case

    West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood has been arrested by university police and is being held at North Central Regional Jail awaiting extradition on a felony warrant out of Delaware.

    July 15, 2014

  • WVU hoping to add two non-conference contests

    West Virginia is nearing the completion of deals to play football games against long-time rival Virginia Tech, now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference, according to a source close to the negotiations.
    An announcement is expected shortly.

    July 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: MLB All-Star game biggest celebration of top athletes

    You will pardon me if I find something else to do when the Pro Bowl rolls around, or if I try to find a “Three Stooges” marathon when it’s time for the NHL All-Star game. As for the NBA All-Star game, I’d rather watch a replay of a four-year-old Uruguay-Ethiopia World Cup soccer match in which I knew the outcome.
     

    July 14, 2014

  • Howes learns to ‘never settle’ as WVU administrator

    You probably don’t know much about Terri Howes, even though she is a rather high-ranking executive in the West Virginia University athletic department.
    “I like it that way,” she said, sitting in a large office at the Coliseum, decorated with pictures and memorabilia, a jar of candy sitting by the door for visitors to dip into.

    July 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Rich Rod’s return not impossible

    As you may guess, in the wake of LeBron James’ decision to let bygones be millions and return to his rooters in Cleveland, more than once was I approached with someone wanting to know if this opened the door for a return to West Virginia University of their once-reviled coach Rich Rodriguez.

    July 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Trickett best option as a leader

    In the end, West Virginia University’s decision to place the mantle of starting quarterback upon veteran Clint Trickett was less about quarterback than it was about leadership.
    This is not to say that Trickett lacks the talent to succeed as quarterback in coach Dana Holgorsen’s system.

    July 6, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads