On Monday, a picture appeared on Twitter from the WVU men’s basketball account. It was of the Swiftair charter plane that was transporting the Mountaineers from Clarksburg to Lubbock for the Texas Tech game.
The thought of jumping aboard might’ve seemed fun to WVU fans.
But the travel most certainly does not appeal to one Robert Edward Huggins.
He’s made that quite clear, including this week.
“[The Tech trip] is the toughest road trip of the year because we’re going to get back at 5 a.m.,” WVU’s coach said before the game.
But he was just getting wound up.
“It’s hard to sleep on planes,” he said. “Our people have done a great job of making sure we’re on planes where guys can stretch out a little bit, but, man, that ain’t going to bed.”
He paused before restarting.
“It’s just hard, man. It’s harder than I think anybody could’ve imagined. It’s one thing to stay up all night and play cards. It’s another to play a game, rush out there, sit on a plane while they de-ice and do all the other stuff they do. I mean, that’s what people don’t get. You don’t just jump on a plane and it flies away. We were on a runaway the last road game for an hour waiting for the plane to take off. It’s not a lot of fun.”
I know, I know. Grumpy ol’ man, you might think. Get off my lawn. There’s also the school of thought that, hey, your school is lucky to be in the Big 12 and not the AAC. Be happy. The Mountaineer football team could be playing a league schedule that includes Temple, East Carolina, Tulane, Navy, Tulsa and, yes, Dana Holgorsen’s Houston. (Please, please, please, by the way, don’t suggest WVU could have joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. It wasn’t happening.)
Yet I can sympathize with Huggins. I get it. Before I was fortunate enough to join Wheelhouse Creative’s amazing marketing and advertising firm, I was covering the Mountaineers as a sports writer/columnist home and away. Football and basketball.
It was fun, yes. But it was also exhausting. I always tell the story that I knew it was time to switch careers during a drive from Waco, Texas, to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. I was in a rental car. It was 3 a.m. I’d had no sleep after a late WVU game. I was trying to catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Pittsburgh. And it was pouring buckets or rain.
So, yes, Huggs makes a ton of money to coach, which includes the travel, but I’d ask you don’t give him too much grief.
Also, pay close attention to what he’s saying. He’s particularly miffed about the 9 p.m. Eastern away game times. And he’s not pointing at himself.
“We’ve talked to [Big 12 officials] since the beginning,” Huggins said. “What I’d like for them to do is just ride with us a few times. Maybe if they rode with us… We’re going to get home at 5 a.m. or later. Then our guys have to go to class and study hall. I’d like for those guys to have to go to class and sit in class and not fall asleep or go to study hall and not be groggy. Then find out and say, ‘Why do we do this to these people?’”
We all know the reason, of course. It’s for the money. Specifically, it’s for the TV money.
“I understand the TV part of it,” Huggins said. “I’ve been working with TV for a long time. But whenever you’re going to get back at 5 a.m. – with all the rhetoric we get about doing the best for student athletes, the betterment of student athletes – this puts them behind the eight ball.
“Nobody seems to think about it or care about it. I’ve talked to [WVU athletic director] Shane [Lyons] about it; Shane has talked to people about it; but nothing seems to change.”
He did lighten up for a moment.
“It’s better than busing though,” he chuckled.
Of course, WVU’s schedule is jumbled now, which may provide relief. The Big 12 postponed the Mountaineers’ games with Baylor on Feb. 15 and 18. So, as it stands, West Virginia’s next two games will be at home on Saturday against Oklahoma and at Texas the following Saturday. (The latter, by the way, is at 3 p.m.)
Whatever the case, I urge you listen closely to what Huggins says – and maybe empathize a bit.
Because I can assure you sleeping on a plane ain’t bed.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.