The Times West Virginian

May 31, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Time to take hard look at college sports

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — College athletics are in turmoil.

Conference alliances are uncertain and seem on the verge of being redrawn to the benefit of the rich at the expense of the poor.

There are still calls for a football playoff system, which only the academics seem to oppose.

Compliance issues are reaching epidemic proportions, with coaches like Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun, a Hall of Fame coach, with scandals on their hands, to say nothing of a messy, million-dollar basketball ticket scam at Kansas that threatens to spread and involves a brother act that is said to run the game of college basketball by controlling camps and recruits.

Billions of dollars go into the universities through TV, ticket sales, merchandising and contributions, yet schools are dropping minor sports, cutting back on athletic opportunities at times when they should be increasing.

With all this swirling around, it would seem that this is the perfect time to take a look at collegiate athletics, perhaps from the top down. All of this goes on under the umbrella of the NCAA, the governing group for the NCAA that acts more like it’s sole purpose is to see that the money flow continues through the television networks.

It is difficult to figure who would take a look at college athletics, but if it doesn’t do something pretty quickly with its football Bowl Championship Series setup, especially should conference expansion limit further the chance of schools like Utah and Boise State to take part in deciding the national championship, it will be the Senate that initiates the reformation.

Certainly the stability that college sports enjoyed for many years as it grew into this giant that requires schools to spend $22 million on a basketball PRACTICE facility, as is going on at WVU, seems to be wavering.

Ed Pastilong has been athletic director at West Virginia for 20 years, one of the longest tenures of any athletic director at a single school. His approach has been solid, yet conservative.

Certainly you cannot argue with his success, the school having been on the verge of a national championship in football twice and reaching the Final Four this year while making a profit and expanding facilities without any NCAA trouble.

Pastilong understands and agrees that college athletics may be at critical moment, facing many different challenges, but he argues that it might not be right to amputate an arm because of a hangnail.

After drawing a strong emotional picture of the good that college athletics do for students, athletes, alumni he warns that “it is important we do not fracture the good qualities that exist.”

“Sometimes we take the good points for granted,” he said. “Then when controversies such as those we have now step forward and draw so much attention because it is not the norm, you must be careful not to overact.”

At present, it appears, Pastilong sees the conference expansion issue as paramount in college sports.

“The biggest concern right now is the challenge to the existing conference set up,” Pastilong said. “Hopefully those in power will not lose track of the possible consequences that will occur by large movements that will affect many schools.”

Put in simple terms, should things be made better for Michigan at the expense of West Virginia or Syracuse?

“There must be a realization that this is a collegiate setting and not a professional setting,” Pastilong continued. “Money should not be the driving force but the reality is that money is having the major effect. As a result you lose the collegiality of intercollegiate sports.”

On the matter of having a football playoff, Pastilong leans toward the view of the college presidents, who are against a playoff. He believes it would harm the existing bowl system, that lets student athletes “to enjoy the bowl experience” either at a top tier bowl or at one of the minor bowls.

But he isn’t as strong on the matter as he might have led you to believe in the past.

“On having a championship, one day I think it’s a good idea, the next day I think the presidents are right,” he said. “It needs to continue to be discussed.”

As for the scandals that are in the news these days, Pastilong believes that compliance has been improved upon over the years and that the loopholes have been tightened enough that this is not a major problem throughout the industry.

“But,” he warns, “you can’t take it for granted.”

As for the Kansas scandal, where tickets were allegedly stolen and scalped over a number of years by employees, he sees that as an aberration and said he did not think it could happen at WVU.

“Our finances are reviewed consistently with the central administration,” he said, noting that it is a complex matter with revenue flowing in from so many different sources.

“We want to make sure the entire university is comfortable with our financial process and, in case we make an error, we can have corrected quickly,” he said.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.