MORGANTOWN - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind while wondering just how much of an advantage it is for West Virginia playing its NCAA tournament opener right up the road.Granted, the Mountaineers can get to Pittsburgh in roughly the same amount of time it takes Gonzaga just to get through airport security. A lot of West Virginia fans can go to the game without even taking a day off of work. And I may be wrong on this, but I'm thinking there's not a huge Zags alumni base from which to draw in Western Pennsylvania.Still . . .How many 'Burghers do you figure hold tickets to an NCAA regional just down the street?And who are they cheering for?Put it this way: If there was an NCAA regional at the Coliseum and Pitt was playing there and West Virginia wasn't; well, if you had tickets you bought six months ago, would you give them up or go just to scream your lungs out for Pitt's opponent?Just wondering. In otherwords, don't be shocked if Gonzaga has a lot more support than you might think at first glance.nn
Pin me to an ant hill with a honey glaze and I still will never concede that there is - or, now, was - this vast conspiracy on the part of the Big East Conference to put the screws to West Virginia as it exited the conference.
Not on the part of game officials in basketball - over whom the Big East has very little control - and not in the seemingly bizarre vote of coaches in either football or basketball.On the latter point, yes, Geno Smith probably should have been the league's football player of the year and, yes, Kevin Jones probably deserved the honor in basketball. And that neither happened might well have been because a handful of the coaches who vote on such matters did not want to reward a player from a school making such a nasty, public exit from the league. But that's just pettiness, not an orchestrated conspiracy.(By the way, before the Big East basketball awards were announced, Jae Crowder was named the league's player of the year and was a higher All-America pick than Jones in a fairly reputable listing by The Sporting News. If that group of writers, with no obvious bias toward WVU, can independently choose Crowder over Jones, at the very least it raises the possibility that the Big East vote was based on something concrete.)And on the matter of officiating, I was nearly swayed to the side of the conspiracy theorists after watching that Big East tournament loss to Connecticut. But in retrospect, I maintain even that was just a horrible job of officiating by one of the three members of that crew. It happens.The point today, though, is not to sink back into that whole debate, but to note that whether you believe in the great conspiracy or not, it was a very, very good thing when West Virginia walked out of Madison Square Garden last week and its major sports essentially left the Big East in its rear view mirror. Never was that more clear than at the exact moment I walked out for the last time myself.
In a nearby conference room, all of the Big East brass was there touting the virtues of Temple University as the league's newest member. Or as I prefer to think of the Owls, a re-member. There was commissioner John Marinatto, who in the years preceding had accomplished absolutely nothing in his "effort'' to retain the league's relevancy, once again proclaiming that the Big East was as strong as it has ever been.All while introducing as its football savior the same program it unceremoniously kicked out of the league a decade earlier because, and only because, its football program was abhorrent.OK, so Temple is better these days. That's a given. Still, in two years the Big East will be forced to tout Rutgers as the lone remaining survivor of its original football membership. It will have lost Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse and replaced that core with the program those schools insisted be banished to the curb because it was dragging them down.I'll miss Big East basketball. You will, too. The Big 12 is fine and if Louisville and Connecticut find a way join Syracuse, Pitt and WVU on the exit ramp, we might not even miss the Big East in that sport, either.But if Big East football hadn't hit rock bottom before, it certainly did when the league tried to prop up Temple and sell it as anything but a last-gasp effort to resuscitate a corpse.And this is the organization anyone thinks is smart enough to orchestrate a conspiracy?
Speaking of player of the year vote, Dana Holgorsen made a rather salient point the other day about the futility of orchestrating campaigns on behalf of players such as Smith or Tavon Austin.It's pointless because what they do on the field far trumps anything that is done for them in the way of campaigns.Holgorsen said West Virginia won't do much at all to hype its stars for things like All-America honors or, specifically, the Heisman Trophy. It doesn't do any good anyway."We're not going to talk about Heisman potential. We are not going to do any campaigns or anything like that,'' West Virginia's football coach said. "It's all about how you do on the football field."Look at the quarterback at Baylor last year [Robert Griffin III]. Heading into the year, there wasn't any Heisman talk or Heisman campaigns. But he played well on the field. That's what counts.''In other words, if you throw it - or catch it - well enough, they will vote.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1