CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The views from here:
In case you were unaware, the NFL is king when it comes to sports in the United States. According to the latest Harris Interactive Poll for sports popularity, the NFL is the favorite sport of 35 percent of those polled. That topped the next three sports (Major League Baseball with 14 percent, college football with 11 and auto racing with 7) combined.The next two favorite sports are NBA hoops (6 percent) and the NHL (5).College basketball?
It's popularity has slipped from being the favorite of 5 percent to 3.Hmm. Here's a thought: Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with all the free throws in games. Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the lack of free flow.Which takes us back to the rules changes instituted this season. Specifically, it takes us back to the new rules regarding hand checking - the ones disallowing the practice.Remember those? The intent was to increase scoring and freedom of movement. The plan was that, after an adjustment period, players would learn.Well, apparently they have not. In 2012-13, each Division I college basketball team averaged 19.8 free throw attempts per game. So far this season, each team is averaging 22.9.Understand, mind you, the game is much better now than in the old days. (With the exception, that is, of timeouts caused by television.) In 1953, for instance, teams averaged a whopping 32.9 free throw attempts.Yet one can't help but wonder if the rules change is helping or hurting. Scoring has increased, that's a fact. Last year all teams averaged 67.49 points and each game averaged 135 points. So far this year, teams are averaging 72.1 points and each game 144.1What it seems the rules makers are missing, though, is we'd rather have more free-flowing games than higher-scoring games pockmarked with more fouls and more play stoppage.Through games of Sunday, we now have 38.8 fouls per game this season. And that, my friends, is why the sport's popularity has suffered. That brings us to a second topic: Have coaches learned how to work the foul system? (And I write that with full understanding of its double meaning.)Well, within the Big 12 it seems so. Each team in WVU's league is averaging 25.5 free throw attempts, compared to the 22.9 national average. Within Marshall's Conference USA, teams are averaging 25.3, again above the average.
Yet for fan viewing enjoyment, check the ACC. Each team there is putting up just 18.9 free throws per game. OK, so how have the coaches at WVU and Marshall handled the foul situation?Well, one must understand there's no perfectly clear answer. It's impossible to discern how many fouls are the result of the new hand-check rules. But, before Tuesday night's game at Baylor, WVU was taking an average of 23.1 free throws, which ranked just above average of the 345 teams. So Bob Huggins has done OK.Marshall is another animal altogether. Tom Herrion has obviously instructed his troops well to draw fouls. The Herd was tied for ninth place among those 345 schools after taking a whopping 593 free throws as of Sunday.But here's the killer: Herrion obviously hasn't taught his players how to shoot those free throws. While it was ninth in attempts, it was ninth from last in conversion percentage at 61.9. That ranked No. 337, which helps to explain a 7-14 record. It will be interesting to see how Dana Holgorsen's recruiting effort winds up. The national signing date is next Wednesday and, according to Scout.com, the Mountaineer commitment class is ranked No. 48 nationally. It is No. 8 within the 10-team Big 12. Only Kansas State and Kansas are ranked lower within the conference.
Marshall, meanwhile, has the nation's No. 71 class, according to the service. That, however, is No. 1 among Conference USA teams. While on the subject of recruiting, perhaps the most creative move ever put forth in the area came from former DuPont High and Salem College coach Corky Griffith.When Griffith followed Terry Bowden at Salem, the school had under $300 with which to recruit. So he put an ad in the Charleston and Pittsburgh newspapers. It read:"Are you looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Travel, excitement, fun? A free trip every other weekend? Become a Salem College football player."The ploy turned into a USA Today story, and Corky and Salem were golden. Perhaps the neatest story of the current basketball season is the No. 4 ranking of Wichita State. (The Shockers are No. 3 in the coaches' poll.)The team is unbeaten, and it has a very strong connection to Marshall: its coach.Gregg Marshall, Wichita State's head coach, was an assistant for the Thundering Herd from 1996-98 for Greg White.There is, however, another tragic connection. Members of football teams from both schools were killed in plane crashes in 1970, just a month apart. Retired-yet-active Gazette sports writer Mike Whiteford pointed out to me that Super Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks played baseball in Charleston just a few years ago.Playing for Asheville, Wilson played at Appalachian Power Park against the West Virginia Power on April 11, 2011. A second baseman that day, he went 2 for 4 as the No. 8 hitter. He was 0 for 4 the next evening and 1 for 3 the evening after.Methinks he chose the right sport. The other day I re-tweeted a message regarding Dalton Pepper's 33-point outburst for Temple. It led to a reader request for a Mountaineer transfer update.So here ya go.Pepper is now 23 years old. He's leading the 5-13 Owls in scoring with a 17.9 average and is third in the American Athletic Conference, behind Louisville's Russ Smith and Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick.Aaric Murray had 34 points for Texas Southern in a Monday victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Playing for ex-Indiana coach Mike Davis, Murray leads the team and Southwestern Conference in scoring with a 23.6 average. He's third in the league in rebounding, averaging 8.1.Dan Jennings is now a senior at Long Beach State, where he averages 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. He has 22 blocks on the season for the 7-12 Big West team.Remember Volodymyr Gerun? He's now with Portland of the West Coast Conference. He has no starts in 19 games and is averaging 4.3 points and 2.5 rebounds.Pat Forsythe received a transfer waiver from the NCAA and is a sophomore center at Akron. He's started 17 of 19 games this season for the Zips and is averaging 5.5 points and four rebounds. The MAC team was 13-6 as of Tuesday.Aaron Brown transferred to St. Joseph's, where he is sitting out with two years of eligibility left. Jabarie Hinds followed the path of former WVU transfers Jackie Rogers and Luke Bonner by moving to Massachusetts, where he'll have two years left.The most interesting transfer to me, however, will be that of Keaton Miles, who will also have two years after transferring to Arkansas, where he'll play for coach Mike Anderson. And finally (do I need an "and finally" after all of the above?), a Super Bowl trivia question.What former Dallas Cowboy is tied with two others for most career Super Bowl interceptions?Answer: Wheeling native and ex-WVU standout Chuck Howley.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.