MORGANTOWN — The other day Marshall’s new coach Dan D’Antoni suggested that the school’s series against West Virginia University, which will be renewed at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, should be moved from Charleston, where it has been a fixture since 1992, and turned into a home-and-home series between the state’s two major universities.
When WVU coach Bob Huggins was asked his opinion on the subject of a game site his answer was somewhat cryptic, suggesting that the series is best played where it is “should it continue.”
“Should it continue?”
Does Huggins really have doubts about the future of West Virginia-Marshall, the last real rivalry there is on a Mountaineer basketball schedule that used to offer Pitt, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova?
“I think every game you schedule, everything you do, there’s a lot things involved,” Huggins answered. “One of those things is the best interests of West Virginia University.”
Which got right to the point. Should West Virginia and Marshall play, and then if so, is it best for WVU to play at the Charleston Civic Center or home and home with the Thundering Herd, as it was played back from 1980 to 1990 with the Mountaineers going 0-5 at the Cam Henderson Center?
“I think before we do a lot of things we need to sit down and evaluate. Playing Marshall has more impact because it’s an in-state game, but the truth of the matter is the game is played for the legislators and they are not in session now. None of them are there,” Huggins said.
Until the last few years the game was played in mid-January and was one big legislative party, with much political lobbying attached to the game.
Nothing like WVU President E. Gordon Gee rubbing elbows with the people who have their mitts on the purse strings of the state. Never can tell when you might need a few million dollars to for a science lab or hospital wing or baseball field or whatever you can get a promise to over a pre-game martini.
But since the game was switched to early to mid-December it’s kind of been like the Grinch who stole Christmas, another non-conference basketball game away from the Coliseum, and that’s not necessarily in the best interests of WVU.
“I’m not saying you don’t. I’m just saying you evaluate what’s in our best interests, not just what they want, obviously. I mean, I can say we ought to play Pitt at home every year, but the reality of it is what’s in the best interest of Pitt and what’s in the reality of West Virginia.”
Scheduling is not as easy as it may seem for there are forces pulling in all directions with the largest magnetic pull coming from the bottom line … but that is not the only consideration.
It is like playing Marshall with, as noted, the political ramifications being as important as the basketball game itself.
“We’re tied into 18 games in the league schedule,” Huggins said, noting that is nine at home and nine on the road. “That leaves you about 10 games to schedule. We play an exempt tournament every year, so you get four games that count only as one out of that, leaving really only nine non-league games to play.”
That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t for you want to have at least five, perhaps six, at home.
This year WVU plays Monmouth, Lafayette, College of Charleston, LSU, Wofford and Virginia Tech at home; the Charleston game counting as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic.
“We have a 10-year deal with Virginia Tech and we’re hoping to start one with Virginia,” Huggins continued.
They, to Huggins, are rivalry-type games.
“I think to people my age, Virginia Tech was a huge rival, every bit as big a rival as Pitt in its day,” Huggins said. “That’s why we’ve done a 10-year contract with them. We’re probably going to do something long term with Virginia, which when I was here was a big rivalry.
“It wasn’t as big as Virginia Tech, but it was an important rivalry. And, I think, as we get a little further into the Big 12 we will develop rivalries there, too.”
If that happens, it lessens the need for the Marshall game, a game that takes a home game away from WVU.
Don’t misunderstand. Huggins doesn’t want to do away with this game, as long as it is in Charleston.
“I think of all the little kids who get a chance to see the guys they hear about, watch on TV and listen to on the radio,” he said.
But there are complications that come with it.
“It’s not just sit here and say I want to play home and home with Marshall. It’s a little more complicated than that,” he said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.