Heating Up

With temperatures finally rising to spring-like levels, I find my thermometer going up a few notches as well when I think about a few items on the West Virginia sports scene. Fortunately, there's always the troubles of the ACC to give me a good laugh and drop the heat a few degrees.

I'm getting a bit tired of hearing about the "grassroots movement" that saved the WVU Rifle team. While there was a 15-minute outcry in opinion columns and message boards concerning the dropping of WVU's most successful sport, the fact is that there was no huge groundswell of support that saved the day. The Legislature's one-time, $100,000 appropriation for the sport merely brought it back on life support, but the program continues to hang by a shoestring. That's a shame for the dedicated student athletes who spent so much of their time and effort to bring the program back to life. (For a good read on the subject, check out Matt Keller's articles both online and in our print publication concerning the challenges that still face the beleaguered squad.)

The same is true for men's track and field, which met the same budget ax a few years ago. While some continue to point the finger of blame at WVU officials and carp that "the money is there", they fail to point out where, exactly, the money is. Sure, West Virginia had banner years in football and basketball this past year. It also, in its most recently reported fiscal year, finished more than $2 million in the red. While this doesn't signal the collapse of the WVU athletic program, it does point out that the money isn't just lying around to resurrect sports or start new ones up.

I understand the passion that many hold for these sports. I certainly didn't like the fact that West Virginia had to drop sports in order to remain competitive in others. However, in the end analysis, much of the complaining about that action has remained unbacked with any serious fund-raising efforts on the part of those "grassroots" supporters. It's mostly been rhetoric, which, while clearly demonstrating their passion for the sport in question, does nothing in the end to help it financially. And that, in the end, is what it takes to have a successful sport.

Is it fair that Olympic sports are the first to be cut or reduced? In a utopian society, probably not. I understand the frustration the supporters of those sports feel when they get the ax, or face budget cuts. However, the general public votes with its wallet, and for the most part those votes go to football and men's basketball. Therefore, those sports, which earn the bulk of the revenue, quite rightly get the bulk of the benefits. Without the success of those Big Two, most of the other programs at WVU would either not exist, or be far less competitive.

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The Charleston Gazette was apparently surprised to learn that there simply isn't much demand for the West Virginia – Marshall football game outside the state's borders. (There probably isn't much demand for it outside Cabell County, either).

In a banner headline, the Gazette blared forth the revelation that network interest in televising the game is pretty much nil at this point. While the game will make it on television in some form, it's not likely it will be anything more than statewide.

In other news, future Gazette headlines to be expected include "Gas Prices Are High" and "Sun To Rise in East".

All joking aside, this game is about on the level of an East Carolina – N.C.State matchup, in terms of national or even regional interest. At some point, you'd think people would learn that.

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I am apparently more worried about the loss of Adam Bednarik than most fans in Mountaineer Nation. Bednarik, whose shoulder surgery will cause him to miss the entire 2006 season, was a warm and fuzzy security blanket at quarterback behind Patrick White.

Folks seem to forget that White started just five games last year, and wasn't exposed to a yearlong pounding (neither, for that matter, was Steve Slaton). What are the odds that Patrick, despite his elusiveness, will be able to take every meaningful snap from center this year? I'd certainly feel much more comfortable with the veteran Bednarik available for duty.

I certainly don't mean to malign either Nate Sowers or Jarrett Brown, both of whom showed promise during the spring. It's just that neither will be ready to direct the Mountaineer offense at top speed in the early stages of the season as Bednarik would.

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Finally, I got a great laugh from the ACC's whining complaints about only getting four teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. (The league meetings, apparently, were conducted at the Feel-Sorry-For-Us Resort). Head backstabber, er, league commissioner John Swofford led the cry-fest, which was targeted at expanding the field for March Madness. That's because the ACC expected to get six or seven teams into the tournament. And when it didn't, its pocketbook took a hit.

Could there be any more fitting justice for a league that made a blatant money-grab against the Big East a couple of years ago? First, the ACC sends an 8-4 football team as its BCS representative (thus again missing its goal of sending two teams to the BCS, which is what much of the money grab was based upon). Now, it complains because the schools in the middle of the league aren't good enough to make the NCAA – again costing the league dollars in terms of valuable tournament units.

Apparently Swofford and the ACC believe that the conference has no hope of actually improving the play of some of its members and earning additional bids. Therefore, it must take yet another backdoor approach to achieving its goals. And as all fans of Big East teams know, that back door is situated in a dirty, trash-strewn alley in the slum section of town.

Perhaps, at some point in the future, Swofford and his cohorts will contemplate the correct way to achieve their goals – by earning them.

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