MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins has said time and again over the course of the past few months that the travel woes that his West Virginia basketball team has encountered this season were not something that really could be gauged until after the Mountaineers went through it once."You don't know until you do it,'' Huggins said again this week.Well, actually Huggins did know. Or at least he had a pretty good idea.That's why, long before West Virginia played its first Big 12 basketball game, Huggins lobbied for some concessions to all the travel. I clearly recall asking him about his reaction to this year's schedule the day it was announced last August. He said little about the competition because he already knew what that would be like.He talked about the logistics."It would have been nice to have had a few of those road games scheduled before we go back to school in January,'' he said at the time. "And making all of those trips separately isn't ideal, either.''Well, as West Virginia's first season in the league winds down, everyone else is beginning to take notice of the Mountaineers' travel woes. Thankfully, they're going to try to do some things to alleviate the problems."There's some things we can do to be mindful of the special challenges they have,'' Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel.
Those "special challenges,'' of course, have everything to do with the Mountaineers facing long trips to every game they play in every sport. When the Mountaineers joined the Big 12, most of the travel talk centered on teams like Texas and Oklahoma and everyone else having to make yearly trips to way-out-of-the-way Morgantown. But that's nothing compared to WVU making almost weekly trips to way-out-of-the-way Texas and Oklahoma, not to mention Kansas and Iowa.It has worn on the Mountaineers, particularly in basketball. Football coach Dana Holgorsen has continually downplayed the travel, pointing out that the only real difference between traveling to, say, Syracuse or Connecticut is maybe an extra hour or so in the air. The packing, the bus trip to the airport, getting through security, getting to a hotel; all of that is the same. It's just an extra hour or so. No big deal.And in football it's not that big a deal. Even playing a night game in some faraway locale is no burden because it's a Saturday night game. It's the weekend. What does it matter if you get back an hour or two later in the wee hours of Sunday?Basketball? It's a real pain. For starters, there are nine Big 12 road trips, not four or five as in football. There are Monday games and Wednesday games. West Virginia had more of those (five) than Saturday road games (four) this season, and every one of them was or will be a 9 p.m. Eastern start.
Consider that a 9 p.m. start is two hours later than most teams in the East begin, then add on that extra hour or so in the air. So instead of getting back to Morgantown at 1 a.m. after a trip for a 7 p.m. game at St. John's, it's 4 a.m. after a visit to somewhere in the Midwest. And that doesn't even include travel delays that at least once this season had the basketball team getting off the bus at the Coliseum at roughly dawn.All of this was predictable, of course, but it's one thing to theorize it and quite another to live it. And live it again."It's not a one-shot deal,'' Huggins said. "I think at the end of the season we'll have to see what the cumulative effect is.''
No one is saying that the travel is the reason the basketball team is mired in a rather torturous season on the court, or that it was the cause of the football team's second-half-of-the-season collapse. But it certainly doesn't serve to balance the playing field at all with the rest of the Big 12 teams, all of which have one long trip a year to Morgantown (with the added benefit of a time difference that works in their favor, not against them) rather than nine.And so the Big 12 will try to make some accommodations the second time around.One will be scheduling a couple of those road trips in basketball for early January before classes begin in Morgantown. For instance, classes did not begin this semester until Jan. 14, yet two of the three Big 12 basketball games the Mountaineers played before then were at home. That was something Huggins lobbied to change when the schedule was being drawn up, but the league chose not to. Flipping even one game would help.The Mountaineers also had five Monday or Wednesday road games this season, all of them 9 p.m. Eastern tipoffs. Even changing one or two of those to 8 p.m. starts would help.And what about some tandem games? The Mountaineers had only one Monday night game on the road this season, at Kansas State, but that was after a Saturday home game. Why not try to schedule that Saturday game on the road and make it one trip. There are plenty of sites in the Big 12 close enough to each other that it's just a short bus trip on Sunday to the next game and there are no missed classes.West Virginia is also lobbying to avoid back-to-back road trips in football, although that doesn't seem nearly as significant a problem. Again, in football it's an extra two hours on a plane (an hour each way) spread over two days when classes aren't in session. But every little bit helps.
"I think we've all got some ideas,'' Huggins said. "I think at the end of the year we all need to put our heads together and figure out what's the most fair and equitable thing to do.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.