The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

July 11, 2012

Mountain State basketball, Bolen in limbo

Accreditation woes deal blow to successful Cougar program

Just two years after Beckley College became a four-year institution, re-naming itself The College of West Virginia, it turned to a young man with strong local ties to guide its men’s basketball program.

Bob Bolen, a Beckley native, took the helm as head coach in 1993 as the school revived its basketball program that had been dormant for 16 seasons.

The name on the front of the uniforms changed in 2001 – to Mountain State University.

That’s the moniker that would bring fear to opponents across the country.

Now, with Tuesday’s announcement detailing ramifications of recent academic troubles at the school, Bolen, 48, and his national power Cougars squad are in limbo — despite the fact that his team has been a mainstay at the top of the rankings of NAIA Division I men’s hoops much of his 18 years on the sidelines.

The Higher Learning Commission, Mountain State University’s general accreditation body, announced that it has decided to withdraw the school’s accreditation effective Aug. 27.

“It shocked me,” Bolen said Tuesday. “I felt that with the changes and the direction (MSU) was going … I didn’t expect this. I felt good about it. I felt that every question had been answered. Evidently, the HLC didn’t see it that way.”

Dr. Jerry Ice, president of the MSU Board of Trustees, read a statement during a press conference Tuesday stating the board intends to submit an appeal promptly and “forcefully pursue our appeal and explore all options to preserve and protect MSU.”

“I have talked to a lot of our players (Tuesday),” Bolen said. “The majority of them want to wait out the process (of the appeal). We can win the appeal — we’re still an accredited institution through the appeal process.

“There’s still a lot of fight in us. We’re going to attack this appeal process with everything we have. I’m not going to sit idly by after we’ve made all of this progress over the years.”

Student-athletes have options, to transfer to another school or stay with MSU through the appeal.

“I told them all if they wanted to go (transfer) I would help them do that,” Bolen said. “I’ll be there for them. There’s no pressure on them to stay.

“If I have enough guys that want to stick it out, I’ll be right there with them. I’m not jumping ship. If we don’t have enough (players), I guess I’ll have to figure things out.”    

The appeal process of an estimated 10 to 16 weeks wouldn’t take MSU all the way through basketball season.

“I have to check with the NAIA to see if we would still be eligible for the national tournament,” he said, in response to the status of the season should the appeal fail.

Bolen has very strong ties to Beckley and the college. His father, Robert E. Bolen taught physical education, health and hygiene and first aid at the college. The elder Bolen worked for the Beckley-Raleigh County YMCA, organized Biddy Buddy basketball, youth soccer, preschool programs, Spirit of Beckley events, and summer concerts.

“I love Beckley,” said Bolen. “I’ve had opportunities to leave over the past 18 years, but chose not to.”

Picking up and re-locating now may seem the logical choice when faced with circumstances such as these. And Bolen will certainly be in demand — he’s been rumored as a candidate for several coaching positions. But roots as deep as his can’t mindlessly be transplanted.

What’s best for him, his wife Lisa and three children Katie, 14, Jaysen, 11, and Andrew, 8 will be carefully considered.

“The only way I’ll consider that is if we don’t have enough players to field a team,” he emphasized. “And from the talks I had with them (Tuesday), that’s not going to be the case.”

Decisions not only need to be made by the returning student-athletes, but also the incoming recruits, including former W.Va. boys prep player of the year Noah Cottrill, who told The Register-Herald on June 15 he intended to play for MSU beginning this fall. He was not available for comment Tuesday.

Bolen became West Virginia’s all-time winningest men’s college basketball coach last season, with his 479th career victory. His win total stands at 487 after a 26-9 campaign in 2011-12.

In the last 12 years, MSU ranks highest in winning percentage (.865) over all NCAA Division I and II, and all NAIA D-I and II men’s basketball programs.

Under his leadership, MSU won a NAIA D-I National Championship in 2004, finished as national runner-up three times (2003, 2008 and 2011) and advanced to the Final Four in 2012. Bolen has won four national coach of the year honors.

“We’ll ride this thing through,” Bolen said. “We can go out there and win this year, I have all of the confidence in the world.”

Bolen is also in the middle of overseeing a youth offensive skills camp for middle and high school aged children this week, the fifth camp session directed by MSU coaches this summer.

— E-mail: jworkman@

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