The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 20, 2013

Is WVU’s turmoil the worst ever?

MORGANTOWN — Anyone who reads daily newspapers or listens to the evening news should be well aware of the fact that there is — and has been — considerable turmoil athletically at West Virginia University.

In my opinion, it is the worst mess in my 67 years of reporting on the Mountaineer sports beat. And the stakes obviously are tremendously higher than ever before financially.

About six months ago I telephoned Drew Payne, chairman of the WVU Board of Governors then, as now. I asked why his members weren’t concerned that it seemed the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics was spending money like it was going out of style.

Payne’s reply was that the Board of Governors agreed that WVU President James Clements and Athletic Director Oliver Luck should be free to spend whatever they determine would be best for the university.

He readily admitted that he feels, as a growing number of people do, that spending in college athletics nationwide has become too greatly costly.

But my question is: Does that make it right? I don’t know for sure. I’m just asking.

However, when college presidents first began paying football and basketball head coaches million-dollar salaries, the cost of a game would eventually get down to long-time loyal season-ticket buyers.

And, indeed, it has hit them hard. Hundreds of my friends have told me they no longer can afford to buy tickets and each was a loyal Mountaineer fan of long, long standing.

Many folks now tell me they already have quit as season-ticket purchasers (football ticket orders now are being accepted for next fall’s home games). So my thought is that game attendance will be somewhat lower for both football and basketball home games in 2013-14.

Efforts by the media to get comments from WVU officials about various athletic matters have become more difficult lately. Their general response is they cannot comment while these matters are still being discussed.

You rarely see direct quotes from Luck, much less Dr. Clements, who has spoken, if at all, through associates on these athletic matters.

The university’s athletic department waited until last month to tell us that it finished the fiscal 2011-12 ending last June 30 with a record-setting $13 million deficit for that 12-month period. And, reportedly, that does not include pending payments on three internal loans. It is undoubtedly the biggest batch of red ink in the athletic department’s history.

You may recall that it cost WVU $20 million just to get out of the Big East Conference to join the Big 12 Conference by July 1, 2012.

Some people think that was a mistake. Do you? Travel has been greater in distances — and more expensive — for both of the two major sports this year. And coaches and players have mentioned the wear and tear as a factor in road game performance.

So much so, the Big 12 commissioner reportedly will be asked to schedule WVU basketball games — men and women’s — on the road on a double-up weekend basis. Saturday at one school and Monday at another. That would save money and also be better for the teams.

Why wasn’t that an arrangement made for their 2012-13 academic-athletic school year?

Growing up, I always learned, at a very early age, that integrity is a very important tool to possess.

Yet we’ve read about allegations of improper bidding procedures and even possible conflicts of interest in the turmoil at WVU.

It’s terribly disheartening, but I’m wishing my alma mater well.

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