MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The most surprising thing about Tony Caridi's return to the West Virginia broadcast booth - in fact, the only thing remotely surprising - is that it apparently came without much acrimony or a day in court.After all, John Raese is a player in all of this, and has that name come up at all in the past few months free of acrimony or legal wrangling?Yet there it was Monday, the official announcement that the more things change the more they stay the same. While the contentiousness and the legal posturing between Raese's West Virginia Radio Corporation, West Virginia University and its new multimedia partner, IMG, continue unabated, the only thing that really matters to the rank and file of WVU fandom won't change.Caridi will be behind the microphone when football season begins Aug. 31 and into basketball this winter. He'll host the coaches' shows and even a new project or two initiated by IMG, and he will continue to host the Statewide Sportsline show and be just as involved with other projects on Raese's MetroNews network.
The only surprising part? There was never a point at which he was put in a position of having to make a choice."No, there wasn't,'' Caridi said. "That's the God's honest truth.''For the benefit of the sheltered, here are the nuts and bolts of the situation as it pertains to Caridi. For 30 years he has worked for West Virginia Radio Corporation, owned by Raese. He's essentially been the voice of WVU athletics on two fronts - in his role as a sports personality with West Virginia Radio and MetroNews, and in his position as the school's play-by-play announcer on the Mountaineer Sports Network.
Now to the casual observer, West Virginia Radio and MSN have always seemed one and the same. West Virginia University ran MSN, but essentially did so - at least on the radio side - through West Virginia Radio. The on-air talent, with Caridi and Hoppy Kercheval having the highest profiles, was always pretty much the same.Then enter Oliver Luck, who pushed the button on what had been long discussed but never acted upon, namely farming out MSN (and so much more) in order to maximize profits. That threatened to end the joined-at-the-hip relationship between MSN and West Virginia Radio.What has ensued in recent months is the gutter fight between Raese and WVU. Forget the specifics of that for the moment. For purposes of this discussion, it doesn't really matter who is right or wrong. Nor does it matter Raese's intent.What matters in this is Caridi's position as it pertains to WVU broadcasts. He works for West Virginia Radio. West Virginia Radio profited immensely through its arrangement with (some would say as) MSN. That Caridi would be the face of both was a given.
Ah, but now West Virginia Radio isn't MSN. Now IMG runs MSN. Might it be logical to assume that Raese would want nothing to do with one of his most high-profile employees working for the outfit that he's worked tirelessly to keep at bay?The subject never came up, Caridi swears."I think the misnomer that was out there was that West Virginia Radio Corporation, Dale Miller and John Raese, were drawing a line in the sand. And that just absolutely wasn't true,'' Caridi said. "They have, from the beginning, given me a green light to continue with my role as the play-by-play announcer. They were never going to say, 'It's us or them.' They never did that.''That IMG wanted Caridi to return was, of course, a no-brainer. Almost since the original IMG deal was struck in the spring - and then re-struck after a few months of legal maneuvering - people have wondered if IMG would ask Caridi back. What a silly notion that they wouldn't. IMG is in the position of needing to be accepted with open arms by WVU fans in order to maximize profits. That the company's first act would be to do anything less than aggressively pursue the largely beloved Caridi is ridiculous.
So the only real bone of contention would be how Caridi would work it all out with Raese and West Virginia Radio."From some of the things I've heard and read, there was this divide,'' Caridi said. "But West Virginia Radio and those guys said, 'You've been with us for 30 years and we know that you love doing this. We're never going to throw up a road block.' ''Now, whether Caridi continues to be heard on West Virginia Radio Corporation stations in his role with the new MSN remains to be seen. IMG continues to announce affiliates for its network, but as yet none in Morgantown or Charleston. Might some of Raese's stations sign up? "I have no idea on that one,'' Caridi said. "I've seen the affiliates [announced so far], but I have no idea there.''That would, of course, complete this weird cycle - Raese fighting tooth and nail to keep IMG out and then signing on the dotted line with the company, all while presumably continuing to sue West Virginia over its right to contract with IMG."You know, things change,'' Caridi laughed before bringing up WVU football assistant coach Tony Gibson, who left with Rich Rodriguez and five years later returned. "Gibby's back here coaching. Things change.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.