The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 27, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Mountain State makes strong impression

MORGANTOWN — You might have noticed it’s been a tough week for the Big East ... or what’s left of it.

And it keeps getting worse.

It started when it was announced that Pittsburgh and Syracuse, two pillars of the conference historically in football and basketball, were joining the ACC. That put the conference officials into such a bind that even on one of the most festive days in conference football history, LSU’s visit to Morgantown, the besieged commissioner John Marinatto stayed out of view of the cameras and the fans.

Photogenic, he ain’t, and the fans probably would not exactly offer him a warm welcome at the moment.

Next there was a team of Big East referees who completely blew the call on a field goal that would have given Toledo a victory over Syracuse, replay showing one of the officials standing under the upright not even looking up as the ball went by.

So the league was weakened, the officials were rotten and so was the security, for while West Virginia was defending the league’s honor by entertaining LSU, someone was breaking into their locker room and stealing cellphones and whatever else they could help themselves to.

“This is the first time, at least while I’ve been here, that we’ve had this type of report,” WVU Police Chief Bob Roberts told Metro News.

They steal Big East teams. They steal Big East cellphones. And things were still deteriorating.

Each week, on Monday, the conference hosts a conference call with the nation’s media and coaches discussing the previous week’s games and the upcoming matchups.

Naturally, that couldn’t make it through without a problem this week. A group of what seemed to be college kids sabotaged the call, identifying themselves as members of the media then asking crank questions that would border on obscenity, forcing them to be cut off.

It came to a head when Todd Graham, the former WVU assistant now running the Pitt program, was asked consecutive crank questions. Ironically, he seemed to get a kick out of them as John Pacquette, the Big East’s public relations head honcho, steamed.

That Graham spent a good deal of his time extolling Pitt’s jump to the ACC when asked about it in a real call rather than just dancing around it with something like “this is not the time or place for that” did nothing to lower Pacquette’s blood pressure.

Pacquette probably wasn’t too thrilled, either, when the Mountaineers put on a show for the nation and anyone from the SEC who happened to be paying attention that defied description on Saturday night. The show and hospitality was magnificent and impressed those in attendance.

The only black mark came with a most unfortunate incident after the game when four LSU fans — one of them pregnant — were violently attacked, one of the males being sent to the hospital with a severe head injury.

If this was an entrance interview for membership in the SEC for West Virginia, which seems the most likely path to the school retaining its place in big-time football, it was successful.

On Metro News morning talk show Monday Jason Ramezan, the vice president of the LSU Alumni Association, said:

“I’ve been to every SEC venue. You guys rank right up there when it comes to gameday atmosphere. Kudos to your fans and your students. They were very, very impressive. I walked away from there saying, ‘Wow, that place was loud.’”

And LSU television play-by-play announcer Lyn Rollins said:

“You made a tremendous impression. The hospitality from 99 percent of the people was incredible,” adding that it “equals the passion of the SEC.”

So it is that if indeed this were an audition, WVU may have saved its place in big-time football by showcasing its passion for the game, its hospitality to opponents and its ability to put on a primetime event unlike any other that the network itself had seen.

It was enough for Chris Fowler, the host of “GameDay,” to tweet:

“Thank You, WVU! Tremendous scene for 1st Gameday visit. School told us 13k were there. fired up but classy. We’ll be back”

Maybe for an SEC game?

Oh, one P.S. — Bob Huggins went 7-3 with his picks, losing his last three. Fowler said that Lee Corso had a better day.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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