The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 16, 2012

Huggins: Constant change killing rivalries

MORGANTOWN — The hard focus on realignment among college conferences has been almost completely upon football, which makes sense because it is football’s money that drives the engine of intercollegiate sports.

Even with the season-ending NCAA basketball championships reaching heights that nearly match the World Series and Super Bowl, the sport has been taken along for a ride without say in the matter, the end product being to maximize income through television in football, complete with a season-ending playoff.

But in recent days the basketball situation has drawn attention to it as the Big East’s seven Catholic basketball-only members have withdrawn from that dying conference to form a league of their own, perhaps even welcoming in such other similar schools as Dayton and St. Louis.

Like so many who have their roots in NCAA sports when they had a certain innocence to them and where the students and alumni were still taken into consideration when decisions were being made, Bob Huggins is not in tune with what is transpiring, a fact he made abundantly clear when asked about it on Friday before departing with his West Virginia University basketball team for Brooklyn to take on John Beilein’s unbeaten, No. 3-ranked Michigan team in a made-for-TV spectacle.

“Money,” Huggins said, when first asked, then sort of hesitated, thinking it all through before sort of shrugging his shoulders and pointing out that he had nothing to lose if he spoke his mind here and so he went ahead with his main point.

“It’s money, and they have given the conference commissioners too much power,” he said. “This is the result of that. (The commissioners) are the ones pushing the issue.”

By “this” he meant what was going on in the Big East Conference, yes, and what had happened to the other traditional conferences, which have been harvesting teams from their rival leagues to their own betterment, often not necessarily to that school’s betterment other than financially.

“It’s sad in a way,” Huggins continued. “We have taken rivalries and fans out of the equation.”

Huggins admitted that he missed playing Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, and that was only magnified when WVU met up with Virginia Tech in an intension game before a large crowd.

“It was more fun to play those games,” Huggins said.

It was basketball the way he remembered it as a player, Virginia Tech being one of the true highlights of the season. But when the first go-round of conference movement came and Tech jumped to the ACC, that series ended and little bit of what West Virginia basketball has always been about went with it.

Now Pitt is gone both in football and basketball, and rather than making a priority of getting either of those schools back on an annual basis in both sports, WVU would rather travel to Washington, D.C., to play a patsy with a guaranteed victory and a guaranteed check.

Huggins even went so far to admit that he “loved playing Notre Dame” when those games came around.

Huggins, of course, had no problem citing the conference commissioners as the cause of the problem, considering that his commissioner, Bob Bowlsby just recently took over the Big 12 reins and was not part of the mayhem.

The power and drive of the commissioners has become common knowledge in recent years, as noted on ESPN.com last year by former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese.

“Commissioners have become so much more high-profile,” Tranghese was quoted as saying. “Twenty years ago, nobody knew who the heck you were. Now, everybody knows them.”

Now names such as Jim Delany of the Big Ten, Mike Slive of the SEC and John Swofford of the ACC are better known than Tavon Austin and rightfully so because they have engineered the major changes in the game.

While WVU had no real choice but to jump to the Big 12 — conference realignment having gone so far as to put it into an untenable situation with the Big East — it came with a price, and it wasn’t the school paying that price but the fans.

The Big 12 has created an expensive, inconvenient travel situation for West Virginia’s fans, who really felt comfortable riding up to Syracuse or Pitt for football games or to D.C. for a Georgetown basketball game or to New Jersey for a Rutgers game.

And the highlight of the year for so many of them was the allure of New York City for the Big East Tournament.

“People will go to Kansas City,” Huggins said, “but it limits the number of people who could go.”

The truth is that while Kansas City is a really nice town, New York it ain’t … although the ribs are better in K.C.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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