By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The more things change ... etc., etc., etc.
You know the adage. You know how true it is.
West Virginia’s athletic department made this huge cultural change over the past couple of years, changing coaches and jumping from the Big East to the Big 12.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, free at last!
No more of that Eastern elitism. No more Jim Boeheim sneers or Lou Carnesecca sweaters. No more glares from John Thompson Sr. or lectures from Jim Calhoun. No more Rick Pitino and his white suit and no more of that putrid football the conference tried to sell as top of the line.
We were going into the heartland of America, going out to the breadbasket of the land. Yeah, we would give our regards to Broadway and break out into a chorus of “Oklahoma!” or “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
It was going to be something really neat, great football, new cities, even prettier cheerleaders ... and then we played a game.
Remember, it was 70-63. The trouble was basketball season was still three weeks away.
We went into the Big 12 with dreams of winning the football conference right away, of playing for a national championship.
Why, it went so far as one of the Mountaineers, when it was suggested that the team would learn what Big 12 football was when they went into conference play, countering by saying that West Virginia expected the Big 12 to learn what West Virginia football is.
Hopefully, they have yet to find out, for the Mountaineers, with probably the three best players in the conference, somehow finished 4-5, which put them into the situation in which they now find themselves ... and that is right back where they started.
This disappointing season wound up sending them back to New York City — the Bronx, no less — to play a football game in a baseball stadium as part of a bowl game that is lacking in both history and prestige.
The opponent? Yeah, a Big East team in Syracuse.
That is no more what Jim Clements and Oliver Luck were looking for when they jumped to the Big 12 than was travesties in game telecasts like the Kansas game, where veteran play-by-play announcer Steve Pysioc referred to the Mountaineers former Hall of Fame Coach as “John Nehlen,” not Don; said the school was located in “Morgantown, Virginia;” and at one point one of the broadcast crew noted that the “Mouseketeer” was doing pushups in the end zone after one of the eight WVU touchdowns.
That is not a promotion for Jon Kimble Jr., the Mountaineer.
The Mountaineers could have gotten that kind of respect by staying in the Big East.
So now they renew the Schwartzwalder Trophy challenge, facing not Pitt, which would have at least had some interest and might sell a few tickets, but instead facing a Syracuse team that may be the only Big East team capable of beating the Mountaineers.
The Orange have done it the past two seasons, the only school in the conference to beat Geno Smith twice, and they have a strong passing game from Ryan Nassib, which plays right into WVU’s most obvious weakness.
But worse than this, the idea that sold everyone on moving to the Big 12 — other than that little matter of survival as a major program — was that things would be new and better.
New? Yes. Better? Hmmm.
This is a cold weather site in a city that you either love or hate.
Having lived there the first six years of my life and then across the Hudson River in Bergen County, N.J., until graduating from high school, I find myself on the hate side.
Think traffic. Think costs. Think rudeness.
I know, Oliver Luck said on the radio Monday that it was the greatest city in the world and that game was “in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world.”
Unfortunately, the iconic stadium was a block away and torn down, that being “The House That Ruth Built,” and, as for being the greatest city in the world, New York can be that if you are on an expense account or make half a million dollars a year. Consider this: The cash charge to cross the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into New York is $13.
That’s $13 a day if you happen to live there and go to work every day, to say nothing of the cash price of $45 to park at Yankee Stadium.
And you think there might be some traffic congestion and waits at the restaurants in New York during the holiday season?
Now, in his favor, Luck is realistic about what happened to put the Mountaineers in this predicament.
“If we want to get to a better bowl it’s very simple — we have to win another game or two more. The selection order is what it is,” he said.
That gets us to the heart of the problem. West Virginia was a very exciting — but not a very good — football team. In their seven victories, only three were against teams that finished with winning records — Texas at 8-4, Baylor at 7-5 and James Madison, which is a FCS team. Two of the losses were absolute blowouts that cost them national ranking and prestige.
With all this said, you will find it strange we still advocate you go to the game, for it would be a shame to have Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and almost certainly Stedman Bailey, who is a junior who figures to declare early for the NFL draft, get anything but a royal sendoff after all they did for the Mountaineers.
But bring a heavy coat, a warm boa and a whole lot of patience.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.