Uncivic Center

Call it home-and-home – or call it off. Such should be the case with the Capital Classic.

Because as the series and programs have matured in the 18 years the game has anually been held at the Charleston Civic Center, its ability to host has not. The facility has aged more than its 30-year arena lifespan would indicate, and now has an outdated, retro feel to it with a setup and execution one only hopes would match.

Seating areas are worn, media areas cramped and contest quality nonexistent. And the neutral court setting seems to bring the worst out in both schools: routine fan arguments, band fights where one plays on top of the other, student bodies who prove more an embarrassment than a testament to their institutions. And that's ignoring action on the floor, which resembles playground rough-and-tumble more than legit basketball. The 54 fouls called in the last game – five players fouled out – were just the latest in a sorry series of play. The "Classic" is Bill Murray's Groundhog Day character come to life; it's the same slipshod game every year. Fundamentals are abandoned, shooting is horrific and the complete lack of pace and flow never allow either team to showcase itself as it should.

Then there's the event organization and planning, operated with FEMA-like efficiency. Problems foreseen as by other event staff as basic or routine are ignored with alarming regularity. The shot clock debacle at the start of the second half Wednesday is unfathomable at most sporting venues because back-up clocks are immediately available. That should be the same in a contest between schools from good Division I conferences. Then the issue couldn't be corrected, forcing the public address announcer to count down the seconds. It resembled backyard football and the age-old blitz rule: One Miss-a-ssippi, two Miss-a-ssippi.

That's just the latest. Fire alarms are pulled. Sodas are thrown on the floor. Fans get escorted out like it was Vegas. The clashes were enjoyable – for the first few years. Now it's tired and trite with the game serving as little more than a palate upon which both schools and fan bases poorly paint themselves.

The weather, because of the Classic's timing – tied via the legislature to its location – is often nasty. Lights malfunction. Game broadcasts are routinely interrupted as both schools lug their equipment to the site, then setup a web of wires that are strung along areas accessed by media – and fans, and mascots and cheerleaders and band members. It's not simply asking for trouble, it's aiding and abetting it.

Glitches and difficulties will certainly occur. But at this rate and frequency, it's more than mere coincidence and probability. And almost all of this could be erased by moving the series back to home-and-home status. One game in Morgantown, one in Huntington. Before non-conference play begins. And repeat.

Gone are the issues of base maintenance and jockeying set-ups. West Virginia's in charge in Morgantown, it's Marshall law in Huntington. Only one crew and fan base travels. The staff working the contest knows the operations and proverbial ins and outs of the arenas. There are back-up shot clocks – and anything else needed for a basketball game, which is what those in charge of the WVU Coliseum and the Cam Henderson Center focus upon. The potential for problems is reduced significantly, and that extends to the off-court snafus as well. It reads here there will be far fewer fan and student body tussles because of the lack of numbers for one side. The tension and feel of meeting in one area just to square off is gone.

It's a real college game in a real college atmosphere, which can do nothing but help play. West Virginia has dominated the series, going 14-4 since it moved annually to Charleston and 16-4 versus the Herd in the capital all-time. But those games have not been clean or well-played. It's not quality basketball. The average shooting percentages for the teams in the Capital Classic has, all-time, been lower than they have averaged for all other games played in the 18-year stretch. The turnovers are routinely higher. The scoring and rhythm, if there even is one, are all over the place. Thirty-four and 23 points, respectively, for WVU and Marshall in the first half, then 53 for each in the final period on Wednesday. It was similar for the previous two games, both of which the Mountaineers won. In MU's upset in 2006, the team's shot 37.9 percent (Marshall) and 34.6 percent (WVU, including 17.2 percent from three-point range). And not because of good defense. It's bad play when West Virginia wins and worse play when Marshall does.

And the Herd could make a far better argument for holding serve on the home floor. Marshall is unbeaten, 5-0 against the Mountaineers in Huntington, while managing to upend Flagship U. once in a dozen games in Morgantown.

Both teams and fan bases suffer from moving the game off one another's courts. The series is slowly being strangled to death, and though it's still selling out, one gets the idea that fans are attending not for enjoyment, but out a compellation of sorts, especially those living in the Kanawha Valley.

It's time for a change. Forget installing a clock in the Civic Center and punch out permanently. Move the Classic out of Charleston and away from the poison of the arena and a legislature bent on getting mid-week kicks instead of focusing on proper tasks. Government's job is not, in any form, to cajole or interfere in collegiate athletics. A move sends that message and signifies a fresh start and renewed life on a long-stale series.


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