The Times West Virginian

November 16, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Early game a rude awakening for West Virginia

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Man was not meant to play basketball at 10 a.m., least of all on a not-so-good Tuesday. Like the least they could do is wait until they stopped serving Egg McMuffins at McDonald’s before tipping off.

And to think they would do it with Bob Huggins coaching one of the teams and Bill Raftery doing the color commentary, two men who have been seen at times enjoying themselves in the wee, wee hours of the morning, well that’s just unimaginable.

Who would have guessed that ESPN stood for Early Sports Programming Network?

And let’s face it, this week we have one college basketball game being played on an aircraft carrier and a few others at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., so really what’s the big deal.

Money is money and exposure is exposure, even if half the world is at work and can’t watch or attend and the other half is in some time zone where this game is starting at 7 a.m. or 5 a.m. or yesterday or tomorrow, if you happen to be in Japan or China.

Huggins says he understands what it’s all about.

“It’s all about money. Money. It’s all about exposure,” he said, a day before his team lost, 70-60, to Kent State. “When they pay the kind of money that TV people are paying, you play when they want you to play.”

Is it right? No, but right matters not in the world today, not even to those people who once were looked upon as principled and willing to stand up for those principles.

Like who? How about Bob Knight, that’s who.

“Coach Knight complained about it forever and ever and ever; now he’s part of it,” Huggins said.

“You do what they tell you to do. I could have said no, but someone is going to do it. Why not us?”

And so, at 10 a.m., the Coliseum had tipoff. Classes? The kids probably would have cut the classes anyway. Besides, college is as much about basketball as it is academics, at least in the world of physical education.

Huggins said this 10 a.m. start is not that big a deal, except for it being Tuesday and not a weekend.

“We, because of people not having their own buildings and basically being the third tenant in the building, we play at all kinds of times,” he said. “That and because of television windows. Marquette last year, we played at 10 in the morning because it led into the bowl games on Jan. 1. You would think that would be great exposure.”

There is, of course, a matter of what you are exposing. One suspects the way WVU turned the ball over 17 times, hit 2 of 12 3s and 16 of 28 free throws was the kind of exposure that probably would have been better if it had been televised at 4 a.m.

There is, of course, something to consider other than the TV exposure and the TV pay. It’s the loyal fans who follow the team … or couldn’t.

See this Kent State game was on the season-ticket package, even though everyone knew many could not make it. Also on the season-ticket package was an exhibition game, a game that many did not necessarily want to attend, there being very few Northern Kentucky State fans hereabouts.

Huggins understands that complaint but doesn’t buy it.

“There are a lot of years you could say they got cheated here, but I don’t think they are getting cheated. We are playing people,” Huggins said. “All I heard when I got here was we have to play a better schedule. Now we’re playing a better schedule.”

The 5,616 who did attend probably weren’t exactly jumping for joy about the better schedule. In fact, the fans to date have paid twice to see WVU lose to Kent State and Northern Kentucky. Ouch.

Makes you wonder about the college game and about parity, about how a Virginia Commonwealth or a George Mason can make the Final Four, how Cleveland State can upset Vanderbilt, about whether or not the talent really has evened out.

Huggins will give you an answer to that, and it is that the rise of the mid-majors is something of mirage.

“To those people who get all excited about how good they are, I say put them in our league and see how good they are day in and day out,” Huggins said. “That’s the side of it nobody really wants to tell. Put the teams everyone is saying ‘the mid-majors are here to stay;’ put them in our league and let them play three ranked teams in a row, two on the road, and see how good they are.

“Anybody can win a one-game shot. There were teams that were independent for years, and they planned their schedule so they could get ready for someone who just got done playing someone who was really, really good, and they’d walk in and get ambushed.”

Better yet, leave them a 6 a.m. wakeup call and make them play at 10 a.m.

The exposure you get might well not be the kind of exposure you want.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.