The Kinder Garden

After an undesirable opening hurdle, WVU's football schedule is actually pretty good.

With a brand new quarterback, almost totally unproved wide receivers and a rebuilt linebacking corps, West Virginia will face a number of challenges during the 2005 football season. However, unlike past seasons, the schedule doesn't have any huge stumbling blocks or a stacked set of tough opponents. In the past, West Virginia has been faced with a trio of tough games in consecutive weeks, back to back difficult road trips, or some other anomaly that posed an obvious difficulty. This year's slate, however, looks to be as balanced as can be expected.

First, WVU doesn't have a bunch of home games or road games in consecutive weeks. In fact, other than a back-to-back homestand with East Carolina and Virginia Tech as September turns to October, the Mountaineers' slate is a perfect home-away-home-away pattern. That's good in both directions. Bunches of home games in a short span can hurt attendance, as it can be difficult for some to get to Morgantown three weekends out of four, or for two or three sets of back-to-back games. And for team that will be searching for new leaders, not having to play more than one road game in succession will also certainly be a help.

Second, the most difficult games on the Mountaineer schedule are split up. Without firing any disrespect to any particular school, it's good to see that Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Pittsburgh are all separated by at least one game. I'm not suggesting that any other foes (o.k., I am saying it for Wofford) will be guaranteed wins, but the layout of this schedule is certainly not as difficult as it could be.

Now, that's not to say that the schedule is perfect. WVU will have to open the season on the road, with a new quarterback, at a league foe. Unfortunately, it's not Rutgers. It's Syracuse, which can be an intimidating place to play when the crowd is into the game. In the past few years, that hasn't been the case, but this year, with a new coach and renewed optimism, the Carrier Dome is likely to be bursting with both bodies and fans for the season opener.

Another negative is the fact that WVU will play eight consecutive games to open the season without an open date. The Mountaineers won't get a bit of a rest until October 29, but even then, the break is only five additional days, as they will be back on the field the following Wednesday to host UConn. Then it's another midweek game against Cincinnati seven days later before they get a an entire week off before hosting Pitt on Thanksgiving. Injuries or fatigue will be a big factor as those consecutive games pile up, but if WVU can get past those, the two November breaks could come at a perfect time to heal up before the season's final push.

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The point was made in a recent "bubblewatch" column on WVU's chances of reaching the NCAA basketball tournament that it would be a waste of time to root against Georgetown. The reasoning went that the selection committee looks at each team on its own merits, and that it didn't matter if WVU was the seventh or eighth team from the Big East. If WVU merits selection, they would get in, the reasons went.

While the thought that the committee won't keep a team out just because it happens to be the eighth team from a particular conference might be true, the other reasoning isn't. Mountaineer fans need to root against Notre Dame and Georgetown on Saturday, because losses by those schools, joined with a WVU win, would likely put West Virginia above them in the pecking order for selection.

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The recent release of a preliminary Academic Progress Report (ACR), which purports to accurately rate schools on their athletes' academic performance, is ten times the mess that the BCS ever thought about being. Any formula that penalizes a school for a transfer when the student in question is in good academic standing at the time is bogus. And that's one thing the APR does right now.

For instance, WVU takes a hit because Tyler Relph and Jerrah Young, both freshmen, transferred at the conclusion of last season. They didn't do it because they were going to be ineligible. They did it because they knew they weren't going to get to play much. So, should the NCAA, which says that schools need to stress the academic side of the house, penalize a school because the player leaves for athletic reasons?

I've also seen recent studies that show the general student population is taking longer and longer to graduate. The average is above five years, and heading for six. So why will the ACR only base its formulas on a four year cycle? Should athletes be held to a higher academic standard than their bretheren who don't play sports? Even my daughter's college tuition plan allows for tuition fees and payment to be used over a five-year period. It seems as if everyone but the reactionary NCAA realizes that four-year college careers are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Of course, that's to be expected from an institution that handles its affairs with all the efficiency of Neville Chamberlain.

To be fair, the NCAA does promise that it will be making modifications and listen to the concerns of its member institutions as the APR comes into full effect next fall. I have to say I'll believe that when I see it.

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