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.

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Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: NCAA football is thriving in the digital age

    The other day Baylor football coach Art Briles walked into his graduate assistants’ office and had to laugh at what he saw.
    “There’s five guys sitting in there — a couple of GA’s and some office personnel — and they all are within a foot and a half of each other and not a one of them is talking to each other,” Briles said, describing the scene “Every one of them is on the phone.”

    April 24, 2014

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    Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.

    April 24, 2014

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    April 23, 2014

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    West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.

    April 22, 2014

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    April 22, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Summer, Alabama will be used to get WVU’s mind right

    The ink had barely dried on the final reports out of West Virginia’s spring practice when thoughts turned forward toward the lazy, hazy days of late summer, days that will bring us into football season with a game that can either change the entire image of WVU football or sour it even further.

    April 21, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Watson tees off a new century at The Greenbrier

    You knew this was going to be one of those unpredictable, memorable days when you drove into the Greenbrier Resort and headed to the Old White Golf Course and found the best parking place in the joint.
    As Bob Uecker would say, right there in the front rooooow.

    April 20, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

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    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
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    April 16, 2014

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