By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In many ways West Virginia University’s first season in the Big 12 has been rather underwhelming, the football team finding its way to something called the Pinstripe Bowl, the men’s basketball team perched in a position to finish beneath .500 and the only championship belonging to the women’s soccer team, which is a wonderful accomplishment but won’t pay the bills.
In truth, in came out this past week, that with the amount of money spent buying their way out the Big East, nothing but time is going to take care of paying those bills, but that is another matter entirely.
What isn’t quite so much another matter is why WVU found itself having problems, especially in men’s and women’s basketball, and as someone who spent 30 years traveling a major league baseball beat from spring training to the final World Series game, usually covering 180 or more games from coast to coast each year, I can tell you that travel has an effect on a team.
This men’s basketball season, West Virginia will have traveled 31,128 miles across all four time zones, from the state of Washington to Florida, in good weather and in bad. It is the equivalent of going around the earth one and one quarter times at the equator or three or four times around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the waist.
Being the only team in the Eastern time zone and playing mostly in the Central time zone, having every conference road game being at least a trip of 870 miles – one way – is not quite like jumping on a flight and heading to LaGuardia Airport in New York or to Hartford, Conn., or even to Tampa, Fla.
As West Virginia was getting into this, coach Bob Huggins spoke of it and he, quite frankly, wasn’t sure what to expect, even though he had spent a year in the Big 12 playing at Kansas State.
“I honestly haven’t been through this,” he said. “I was in Kansas. We were basically an hour (flight) from everybody. I’ve never been through this before, this kind of travel on a day-to-day basis.”
At the time, Huggins did not want to sound like he was complaining, not so quickly after joining the league.
“Don’t get me wrong; we’ve done it before,” Huggins said. “In non-conference games at Cincinnati, we played everybody. We played Washington. We played Southern Cal. We played all those people, but it wasn’t like one at home, travel four hours, come back and play at home and then travel four hours. I’ve never done that.”
And now that he’s done it, he’s learned that it is no way to run a basketball team.
See, you play an 8 p.m. (CST) game in Oklahoma, say, which is at 9 back home for your fans. You finish at 11:30 p.m. home time, take an hour and a half to get to the airport, which is 1 p.m. Eastern time and fly all night to get home at say 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. and have class the next day, maybe practice, too.
It isn’t right and what isn’t right about it is that the rest of the teams come to WVU once, making that kind of trip, and even pick up an hour while heading home.
WVU does it for every road game and it is a huge disadvantage, even though the Mountaineers are traveling in the luxury of a charter jet that is also rented to NBA teams and adjusted for their size.
Earlier this year Rick Barnes, the Texas coach, paid tribute to what WVU was going through after his team had been swept by the Mountaineers.
“Where I feel for West Virginia is everywhere they go, they’re going through different time zones, and when they come back home they lose an hour,” Barnes said during a Big 12 coaches conference call.
“I think as time goes on, I think the league is really going to have to work with West Virginia. I don’t know how to do it, but I think it’s really tough on them. We're doing it one time here, but think about every trip you’ve got to go to a different time zone and come back and lose an hour. It's different.”
Make no doubt that this has to become a topic of conversation at the Big 12 meetings, looking at some way to make life a little earlier for WVU, although that will be difficult short of just getting them an hour on starting times and going to 7 p.m. Eastern rather than 8 Eastern when on the road.
Huggins admits something should be done and believes he may have to juggle his non-conference schedule to make life easier on his athletes — and himself.
“With all the travel and everything, it would have been nice to have a week off when we went to Purdue,” Huggins said, back after they squeezed Purdue in among the conference games so they could a national TV time.
“It would have been nice to have rested a few days, maybe get healed up a little bit and fix some things. I don’t think we’re going to travel the way we have during the non-conference season.”
That means playing a closer foe that Gonzaga, even if it means losing a TV date, or not going to Purdue but hosting a non-conference team and doing it out of conference schedule.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.