Before I go any further, let it be known that no one at WVU is scared of playing the Herd, despite the repeated bleatings of several Marshall media mouthpieces, not to mention the embarrassing and shameful stunts the MU administration pulled at the Legislature a couple of years ago. It's simply that West Virginia, as a self-supporting athletics program, can't schedule games to fulfill someone's campaign promises or the supposed will of the majority of people in the state. So, save you ill-informed letters and emails, Herd fans. You're arguing a fallacy on this one.
That said, let's take a look at some of the comments from the West Virginia contingent at the press conference on Tuesday morning. Reading between the lines will likely be required, because WVU officials have the savvy to not come out and make ugly, outrageous statements for the media (unlike some other schools we can name).
First, WVU president David Hardesty noted, "now that this is behind us, perhaps we can concentrate on the business of higher education". That was obviously a shot at the 18% budget cuts that West Virginia University has suffered the past two years. If the governor and legislative members in attendance didn't hear that one, I certainly did. If state government has the time to address situations such as this, then it certainly has the time to address a cut of almost one-fifth of West Virginia University's budget, correct?
Next, WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong joked, "I've enjoyed disagreeing with [MU athletic director] Kayo Marcum every day for the past five months." While said in jest, like most good jokes, there was also more than a germ of truth at its core. Could the meaning have been that Pastilong still disagreed on the terms of the contract, and was trying, as diplomatically as possible, to point that out? It seems likely.
Finally, head coach Rich Rodriguez, while saying all the right things, trotted out the Forrest Gump "Life is like a box of chocolates" quote. For sure, Coach Rod had no idea what he was going to get in this deal, and from the overall demeanor exhibited by West Virginia officials, it looks as if they got the nut nougat that's so hard it cracks your teeth. Rodriguez also cracked that he "thought they were giving away free Ginsu knives and bamboo steamers". Ouch. Could anything be more telling than to equate the making of this series to a cheesy infomercial?
Rodriguez also noted that the Mountaineers already have long established rivalries with schools such as Pittsburgh and Maryland. While he said that Marshall could be added to that list, the message was clear. WVU, which has played Pitt since 1895, already has schools that it battles with on an annual basis, and the mere fact that the two schools are within the borders of the same state doesn't automatically make this the most important game on the Mountaineers' schedule.
Proof of that came as recently as this past January, when Marshall's basketball team rode a once in a lifetime shooting performance to upset the Mountaineers in Charleston. From the celebration on the floor, you would have thought the Herd had won the national championship. It was the highlight of their season, while WVU, of course, had much bigger fish to fry. West Virginia is working toward national prominence, while it seems as if the Herd is still simply trying to one up the state's flagship institution. That was obvious from the smiles and comments about it being "a great day for Marshall" from the green and white crowd in attendance.
These inferences are just part of the picture, however. There are a number of particulars in this deal that are slanted toward the southwestern part of the state.
While four of the games have equivalent home and home payouts, (2006 -2007, and 2010-2011), WVU will have to pay the Herd $250,000 for their visit to Morgantown in 2012. I know that's supposed to balance out the fact that Marshall won't get a return home date for that game, but $100,000 more than the other payouts? Please.
Even more frustrating is the payout of the site-to-be-determined game in 2009. If it's in Huntington, Marshall pays WVU $200,000. But if it's in Morgantown, WVU has to pay Marshall $250,000.
This, of course, is a complete crock. Why should WVU have to pay MU more for this game if it beats the Herd in two of the first three games? Does this say MU's program will be so devastated by beatings from WVU that it will need more money to sustain itself? WVU will, in effect, be penalized $50,000 for winning two of the first three games. Here's an idea – in addition to the home game prize, let's make this one winner take all in terms of gate receipts. The winner of the 2009 keeps all the money, no matter where it's played. That's no more unfair or off the wall than the concept of determining the game's location.
This one is way out there. And although Pastilong said that WVU will have time to adjust for that, and will have a backup plan that allows for six home games in '09 should WVU be forced to play in Huntington that year, there's not much doubt that any such plan will involve having a 1AA team on standby as an emergency home opponent. Which leads to…
The Mountaineers are now facing a deep deficit in this area. WVU already had a Conference USA team (East Carolina) scheduled through at least 2008, and with the addition of the Herd, West Virginia must now figure out a way to get another Top 25 team on the slate in the remaining gaps on the schedule. Fitting in such schools, while still getting the seven home games the Mountaineers need to keep their athletic department solvent, won't be an easy task.
Might West Virginia have to bite the bullet and buy out the last couple games of the ECU contract in order to make room for a heavy? Will Governor Manchin provide the money to make that happen? Whatever solution is chosen, it's unlikely that WVU will be able to line up an out of conference schedule that is strong enough to keep them high in the BCS standings, no matter what they do in the conference. Hardesty pointed that out in his comments as well, noting that WVU fans would now have to cheer for Marshall in the Herd's other games, because their record will directly impact WVU's strength of schedule. Yeah, right. I'm sure that's going to happen. So, remember that when you are moaning about WVU's SOS number in the 2007 BCS rankings. Much of the blame won't rest on WVU's administration, which was bulldozed into this agreement with all the finesse of a sumo wrestler fighting Verne Troyer.
Which leaves WVU's strength of schedule hopes on the Big East conference. Syracuse, Louisville, Pitt, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida are going to have to win a lot of out of conference games, and soon. Otherwise, SOS will mean not only strength of schedule, but also Save our Souls.
If none of this convinces you, then consider this. WVU was adamant, repeat adamant, about accepting only a three for one deal. While spin is already underway to point out that WVU could achieve that goal by winning two of the first three, and thus claiming the 2009 game, it should be pointed out that the best WVU can do in this is a five for two, and could end up with a four for three. What happened to change WVU's stance? Obviously, pressure from the governor. As the man who controls the purse strings, Manchin had all sorts of clout to force WVU to accept the deal he wanted them to accept. The shame is, that he didn't force Marshall into any concessions along the way.