Hickman: Random items that seem surprising

MORGANTOWN — You know how they say the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Well, news flash: It’s not always true.

Consider just a handful of completely random items from recent days and weeks and then tell me that even as recently as a year or two ago anyone would have thought them possible:

n West Virginia’s athletic department is cut a check from its conference for nearly $14 million. And that’s not even a full share of the proceeds.

n Rich Rodriguez is in the process of negotiating a contract extension at Arizona that includes a doubled buyout in the event he decides he wants to leave and coach football at West Virginia.

n Shawne Alston might be down to one lawsuit against the NCAA instead of two.

n West Virginia’s golf team is looking for a place to practice and play.

n And John Raese is still awaiting his day in court against WVU.

Really, now, in a short-term context none of those things are surprising (OK, maybe the Rodriguez deal is an exception). But think back just a few short years ago, in some cases just one or two.

In other words, when Alston was trying to stay healthy enough to suit up for a team playing in the Big East, whose games were being broadcast for roughly the 1,000th year in a row by Raese’s statewide radio monopoly. Oh, and the only golf being played was at MAC fundraisers.

Now, I’m not judging any of those. It’s good, though, every once in a while to step back and take stock.

Take the $14 million payout from the Big 12, for example. In a couple of years, that number will grow to at least $25 million and perhaps considerably more. In its final year in the Big East, the school earned roughly $9 million from the league, which it promptly handed back as part of its exit settlement. And that $9 million was well on the high side of normal thanks to a BCS bowl appearance that year and a run of NCAA men’s basketball tournaments.

And as long as we’re thinking back, we might as well recall the outrage by some over the $13 million loss reported by the athletic department shortly after that Big East exit. Yet barely a year later, the department is flush enough to be spending or floating bonds for $106 million in facility upgrades.

Now there’s a change.

It’s not all so rosy, of course. There’s the whole Raese vs. WVU deal, which no one could even have imagined a few years ago. Yes, there were rumblings for years about how the school might be better off selling its Tier 3 rights on the open market rather than maintaining the status quo, but no one predicted this. WVU and Raese’s West Virginia Radio Corporation were so closely joined at the hip that it was sometimes impossible to tell who was working for whom.

Now the two sides are talking only through court motions and arguments. The latest came May 23 when the judge assigned to the case, Thomas Evans, gave the sides two weeks to craft arguments on why he should or shouldn’t void WVU’s 12-year, $86.5 million deal with IMG College. Those two weeks are up on Friday, but don’t expect that to be the end. This could still drag out for years.

Or maybe the two sides will kiss and make up and pretty soon WVU’s golf team will be playing at Raese’s Pikewood National. Or not.

Speaking of dragging out for years, then there’s Alston. In the past year or so, he’s been at the front of two suits filed against the NCAA. One has apparently been settled. Alston was a part of the EA Sports suit that was tentatively settled and will pay plaintiffs $40 million. Don’t think he’s going to get rich, though. Depending upon the number of players who file for compensation, the payout could be as little as 50 bucks.

He’s not likely to get rich from the other suit, either.

Alston has also sued the NCAA and the five power conferences, essentially for creating a monopoly in which they can limit what athletes receive in scholarship money. OK, so it’s a little more complex than that, but as far as current athletes are concerned, it’s already lit a fire under the NCAA. All of the action taken by those five power conferences to have more autonomy and to be able to fund the full cost of scholarships has been on the table for a while. The suit by Alston, though, is speeding up the timetable for action.

(Oh, and by the way, if you noticed that the Big 12 last week held back nearly $8 million from its revenue distribution for potential legal costs, the suits by Alston and Ed O’Bannon and others are a significant reason).

The most intriguing of those things we mentioned earlier, however, is probably actually the least intriguing. That would be Rodriguez’s new contract, which has yet to be approved but preliminarily calls for him to pay double the buyout to Arizona if he leaves (before that contract expires) for West Virginia as opposed to leaving for a job anywhere else.

On the surface, that’s an eyebrow raiser. But is it really?

It’s not as if Rodriguez or his people went into the negotiations with interest from West Virginia on the table. More than likely, the good folks at Arizona simply scanned the college football landscape and thought, “Hmmm, West Virginia’s program isn’t doing that well right now and he’s from there. Let’s cover our posteriors.’’

If there’s more to it than that, I’d be surprised. More importantly, though, I’d have to rethink at least one thing.

The more things change, the more they really do stay the same.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

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