MORGANTOWN — For those West Virginians who haven’t spent the past four or five years in the mines or otherwise out of touch with reality, you may have noticed a sharp decline in athletic success at state university.
The predictable reflex is to blame the coach, and under no circumstances can anyone praise that fraternity, even though to this day, women’s basketball coach Mike Carey is the only one who has stepped aside.
There have been screams over the firing of football coach Neal Brown and with the disappointment of this year’s basketball team, fingers are now pointing in the direction of Bob Huggins despite his recent induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In addition, athletic director Shane Lyons was rightly fired, decay was under his watch, although the root of the problem was not even at his feet.
And don’t even worry about fixating on the players, whether they’re on the football or basketball field, because the situation is much more complex than that.
As Cassiuis proclaimed in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, who are subordinates
And this is exactly the truth.
The blame lies with the new model that is emerging within the NCAA, a professional model that hurts WVU and the schools like it much more than other schools. While there has always been a power imbalance within the NCAA, it could be overcome by schools like WVU with patience and good decisions.
But today’s NCAA has ruled that there are the New York Yankees at the top and the Pittsburgh Pirates at the bottom and with the disproportionate split in revenues and reputations it becomes a nearly impossible task for WVU to exist as it used to in college sports.
Recently, former WVU tight end Anthony Becht, speaking on an Internet podcast touting the new XFL and his new team, the St. Louis Battlehawks, of which he is head coach and is pulling off a fantastic comeback win in the His opening game, canceling after a 15-3 deficit in the final minute and a half, spoke to the situation WVU faces now.
“It’s a different kind of place now,” he said, after seeing him over the years as an alumnus, as a 12-year NFL veteran and as a college football television analyst. “Over time West Virginia really was a developmental school where you got a lot of good 3-stars – if that’s what you want to call them – football players, hungry kids with chips on their backs, and cycle every four or five years they put together a team and had a run.”
That, of course, was Don Nehlen’s approach and he ended up with undefeated regular season teams in 1988 and 1993 and he thought, in 1998, he had that kind of team as well.
It was about building a team, keeping the team together, keeping the coaching staff together, adding something and reaching a peak.
“Right now, there are a couple of tough things,” Becht said on the podcast. “Right now, I don’t love the conference that West Virginia is in. I just don’t think it fits the identity of what WVU has been for the past 35 years. No. 1. they’re fighting this. Logistically, they are also fighting because recruiting-wise they are getting the 4 star recruits but it’s a different time.
“NIL and transfers have forced schools to do things differently because ultimately they are being judged by these five and four star players.”
Now it’s true that WVU benefits from the impending departure of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12, historically dominant forces in the conference and certainly emerging from recruiting hotbeds with all the money needed to buy coaches and players, which is the focus of recruiting today.
WVU simply does not have the resources to compete with the states of Alabama and Oklahoma and Ohio and Michigan of the college athletic world under the rules as currently written.
True, they’ve set up buildings to house athletes which help a lot in recruiting, but with the transfer portal allowing free agency at a player’s whim, there’s nothing keeping him there a second or third year.
Certainly, competing with Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and Central Florida in future years will be easier for WVU than Oklahoma and Texas, but WVU is always an outsider going to areas like Florida and Texas to recruit, where there is the greatest wealth of high school talent.
While previewing Texas Tech the other day, Huggins spoke about the fertile fields of talent that schools in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas must choose from.
He noted that the Big 12 used to be known as a football league, but that athletic directors have gone and made a conscious effort to improve his basketball training.
Good coaches make good players.
“When you get on a bus and you go from Austin to Waco alone, you realize how big the state is and how many colleges and high schools there are. There are so many people there, and there are a lot of cities there. You Texas, go Texas Tech, go Houston, you Baylor, go on and on and on.
“They have a lot of high-end stuff there … and I think coach (Bobby) Knight coming into Texas Tech helped. When people talked about the great coaches in the Big 12, it wasn’t just the football coaches after for a while. They always had good coaches, but then he just kept getting better. Jamie (Dixon) left Pitt and went to TCU. He was one of the best coaches in the Big East at Pitt.
The college athletic world moved south, for the most part, and then took on a professional tinge and West Virginia was a small state without a pro team and where you had a better chance of recruiting coal miners or high school mountaineers. level with a small M rather than a 5-star Quarterback or point guard.
The table is tilted, and now it’s up to Dr. Gordon Gee, the school’s president, and new athletic director Wren Baker, to figure out a way to saw off one of those legs so it becomes level for schools like West Virginia to compete.
Competition can be done. Marquette, for example, is No. 10 in the AP Poll, but they don’t play the Big 12 schedule and they’re from a big city, Milwaukee, in the Midwest near Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis… population centers where basketball rules.
They play in the Big East and don’t have to mess with trips to Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and, upcoming, Houston, BYU and Central Florida in a league that now spans three time zones.
WVU certainly needs to make changes to the way it operates because the trend has been quite negative recently.
The football team in the last four years went 22-25 (14-21 in conference play) while in the previous four years they went 33-18 (22-14) while the basketball team in the last five years went 86-70 (32-53) while going 123-55 (56-34) in the previous five years.
It is up to the NCAA to make reform more than just handing out money as there is a huge difference between professional sports and college sports aimed at competitive balance via a draft and the ability to tie a player to his team for long-term offers rather than entering the portal every time you run out of beer in the fridge.
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