Southern Vistas

Much like the West Virginia University sports scene (outside of baseball), I've been largely dormant as of late.

But my relative quiet and time away from the day-in, day-out of reporting and writing has given me the chance to sit back and observe the goings-on in sports and sharpen a couple of opinions I've long held.

  • While WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins has yet to formally announce which Mountaineer players will not return on scholarship to make way for incoming freshmen, it turns out that the problem he faces is not entirely unique.

    With the recent commitment of blue-chip point guard John Wall, new Kentucky coach John Calipari has to similarly cut two scholarships from players who already had them.

    Whether that means that players are forced to transfer out of their respective programs or whether they will stay as walk-ons remains to be seen.

    In West Virginia's case, it has long been believed that reserve Dee Proby was ready to transfer elsewhere for playing time. Josh Sowards no longer will be with the team, but that still leaves one more scholarship to be freed up.

    That decision could be made for Huggins if the issues surrounding Joe Mazzulla (both in terms of his recovery from last season's shoulder injury and the resolution of his legal problems) don't work out well for the former starting point guard.

    Regardless of the individual outcomes, the situations at WVU and UK emphasize the disparity in the power held by institutions and the athletes that represent them in college sports.

    It's the schools and the coaches that wield the entirety of that power in situations like these.

    While in some cases (perhaps like that of Proby) the decision to part ways can be mutual, in others, it might not be so clear-cut. In those moments, a player's future is left entirely at the mercy of coaches and administrators who are paid to win.

    Invariably, the least competitive of players will be the ones either cut from scholarship or forced out of the program.

    These are, of course, the ones who are least likely to end up making a career out of playing sports. In many cases, the academic scholarships they receive are their only chance to get a college education and make a better life for themselves and their families.

    This isn't to say that the coaches and administrators are doing some sort of wrong to the athletes. They are paid to win, not to be arbiters of social justice. They are doing what they must with the system that is in place.

    However, the NCAA should examine what can be done to give players the chance to accept a scholarship with the knowledge that if they are willing to put in the work academically, they will have the chance to earn their degree without financial worry.

    Perhaps that means giving players the option to forfeit their remaining athletic eligibility and stay in school on scholarship if they are forced out by their coach.

    Regardless of the solution, something should be done to give the student-athletes more power to control their futures in college athletics. The athletes at Kentucky and West Virginia deserve that much.

    * * *

    Speaking of Huggins, it seems as though the long-discussed practice facility the Mountaineer men's and women's basketball teams are looking forward to is still some time away from becoming a reality.

    The head coach wants to begin construction sooner rather than later despite the fact that much of the funding to build the facility is still not in place.

    Athletic department officals (notably athletic director Ed Pastilong) are on record as saying that significantly more money must be in hand to break ground.

    There are merits to both sides of that argument -- Huggins claims that donors would be more apt to give money if they saw some tangible sign of progress, while Pastilong claims it would be irresponsible to start a project without the money to finish it.

    My personal curiosity lies in the precipitous rise in the projected cost of the facility.

    When I broke the story that WVU was planning to build the practice facility (during my time at The Daily Athenaeum), I was given a "ballpark" cost of $16-20 million for the construction by Russ Sharp, the associate athletic director for finance and administration.

    This number wasn't just randomly thrown out.

    The athletic department had already been working with the architects to plan out what would be in the building, and Sharp said even then that it was mostly details that had to be worked out to determine exactly what the building would ultimately contain and what it would look like.

    Now, the projected cost is in the neighborhood of $26 million.

    Huggins has justified the high cost of the facility, saying it takes money to "build it right." He has cited the example of the Coliseum, which he still says is a quality facility almost 40 years after it opened.

    The question remains, however, what will make the facility so much better as to justify an additional $6-10 million in construction costs.

    Is it simply using quality materials to ensure the building will be around for a long time? Or is it a desire to have features that some might consider luxuries?

    Perhaps in the coming weeks and months we will have a better idea of what exactly is the reason for the high cost, which Fairmont Times West Virginian columnist Bob Hertzel pointed out is more than the entire Greenbrier Resort was recently bought for.

    While we're waiting on those details, Huggins is left waiting for the project (which he has called essential to the program's future) to finally become a brick-and-mortar reality.


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