Southern Vistas

Those West Virginia football fans who live by that old Latin idiom "carpe diem" ("seize the day") have reason for optimism at this point. But uncertainty is on the horizon, bringing a sense of dread that will certainly hang over the 2010 season like a dark cloud.

If you are prepared to ignore the forecast, all is well heading into what is one of the biggest weekends of the year (at least of the ones that don't involve an actual game).

Players reported for fall practice this evening, and they begin their workouts at Milan Puskar Stadium tomorrow afternoon. And by all accounts, the individuals who will don the old gold and blue this season are prepared to make waves.

Listen to the players tell the tale, and they will let you know just how hard they have worked this offseason.

According to them, the workouts they have endured throughout the summer have been difficult. Not just tough for the sake of being tough, but the kind of hard work that makes a group of already-gifted athletes take that proverbial "next step" -- faster, stronger, more conditioned. Just plain "better".

Even before the summer, this was already a preseason filled with exciting prospects.

A defense that returns nine starters and most of the key contributors to a unit that seemed to come together towards the end of last season, including hard-hitters named Sands and Thomas, a trio of nasty defensive linemen and a secondary that boasts legitimate NFL talent.

An offense that returns all of its starting offensive linemen, has a trio of talented young quarterbacks, and guys named Devine, Sanders and Austin that make up a three-headed monster speedy enough to scare any defensive coordinator.

A special teams unit headed by a young kicker who displayed true grit and nerves of steel in front of 56,123 onlookers, vanquishing his team's biggest rival with one long sweep of his right foot just last November.

It was reason enough for many to be downright giddy as the calendar flipped from July to August.

But that was before the punch to the gut that was Thursday.

While many knew a storm was brewing on the horizon when the NCAA first showed up in Morgantown, like bloodhounds sniffing out a trail that stretched back into the Mountain State all the way from Ann Arbor, it still wasn't enough to be fully prepared for the shock that was the Notice of Allegations the West Virginia athletic department revealed.

Five, count 'em, five major violations. One more of a "secondary" nature. Over a span of time that just so happens to encompass the entirety of the Mountaineer football program's new Golden Era.

Perhaps it's all much ado about nothing.

Maybe the folks who say the NCAA will merely slap WVU on the proverbial wrist have it all figured out. Probation, they say. Beyond that, the reduction in the number of graduate assistants with the football program and the revisions to job descriptions and employment agreements with many people connected to the program will suffice.

Or maybe not.

Maybe the members of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, who have been on a roll lately in terms of finding dirty laundry at many schools worth airing out, will not take lightly the phrase that says West Virginia is a "possible repeat violator."

Maybe the charges of "failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance" for both former coach Rich Rodriguez and current coach Bill Stewart, spanning five seasons and multiple compliance directors, are enough to cause the NCAA find a "lack of institutional control" on the part of WVU.

Maybe that slap on the wrist could turn into a stab wound to the stomach.

Either way, we're not going to know until the 2010 football season is either drawing to a close or is already in the books.

If the University responds quickly to the NCAA's allegations, there could be a hearing in December. If it does not, the case will not be considered until mid-February, when the recruiting class of 2011 will already be signed and sealed (if not delivered).

It's a classic catch-22. Either disrupt a critical recruiting period and a time when teams are practicing for postseason bowl games to move the process along, or wait it out and let folks from schools recruiting athletes that are also interested in WVU plant the seed in the ears of impressionable high school seniors and their parents.

"You know, you could go play in Morgantown," they could say. "But you might not be on TV very much. I've heard that might be what NCAA might force them to go two years without a televised game. That wouldn't make it very easy for NFL scouts to see you, would it?"

At that point, it matters little if the talk is fact or fiction. It doesn't take much of that to scare 18-year-olds with big dreams of big-time money and big-time fame in professional football.

Of course, those recruiting battles are all about the future. The present is promising.

The 2010 football season, like most every other in the 119 years West Virginia has had a team, should be a reason for excitement among fans. That was the crux of athletic director Oliver Luck's rallying cry at the end of his four minute statement yesterday.

But even if the wins pile up as many hope, there will always be that nagging thought in the back of the minds of Mountaineers everywhere. Just what, exactly, comes next?

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