I’ve always been a big picture guy. That’s the case here at Wheelhouse Creative. It was the case when I was a sports columnist covering the Mountain State.
That’s why I feel this is an important time for WVU’s football program.
Let’s face it, West Virginia is never going to be the rich kid when it comes to college programs. It is not going to be Texas, which is welcomed with open arms to the SEC despite a lack of recent success. It is not going to be Oklahoma or USC or Ohio State or Penn State.
Yet the merry-go-round that is college athletics is a lot like high school dating. You might not be the rich kid, but you sure as heck can dress nicely. You can do all you can to be attractive.
Which brings me to the current Mountaineer football season.
I believe the way WVU regroups after a 2-3 start is going to be very important in the big picture.
If you don’t believe me just look back – and remember the history that is Mountaineer athletics.
As a sport writer and columnist, I was there back in 1991, when WVU was thrilled to get in the Big East first in football only and then, in 1995, all sports.
Some of you are probably too young to remember. But the Mountaineers were an independent before joining the Big East. It was a big deal to join a football league that boasted Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College.
And, yes, WVU was 4-7 the year before, in 1990. But Google the Mountaineers in 1988. They were very pretty. That season they ended up playing Notre Dame for a national championship in the Fiesta Bowl. Finished No. 5.
Also, check out 1989. West Virginia finished 8-3, ranked No. 21 and played Clemson in the Gator Bowl. Again, sharply dressed.
Is that the only reason WVU was invited into the league? No. A divide between the league’s football and basketball members had begun. But West Virginia had put itself in great position with its recent success.
Remember too that for a hot minute the Big East was very well-respected. Miami was on its game. Most of the time two or three of the eight football teams were ranked. Notre Dame joined as a non-football member.
But then, yes, it fell apart. The loss of Miami was a gut punch the football members felt deeply. Others soon followed.
Including, in 2012, WVU. Harken back with me. In October of 2011, then-athletic director Oliver Luck found the Big 12 opening created by the league’s loss of Missouri and landed an invitation.
Sort of. First, the Big 12 offered Luck and company and then backed off a bit. Remember that? Senate Republican Mitch McConnell reached out to Big 12 officials and tried to get them to take Louisville instead of WVU. Word is Sen. Joe Manchin as well as Jay Rockefeller lobbied back – successfully.
There were subsequent lawsuits, finally settled on Valentine’s Day of 2012, that allowed WVU to leave the Big East for the Big 12.
But what was happening around all that?
The Mountaineers were looking spiffy. (Look up the word, kids.)
In the 2009 season, West Virginia went 9-4 and played Florida State in the Gator Bowl. In 2010, the Mountaineers again were 9-4 and played N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
And then, in the middle of the move, WVU was compiling a 10-3 record and a No. 17 ranking that culminated in the 70-33 whipping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
For Mountaineer fans, they were good times.
For their team’s program, they were important times.
Just like these days. With the rich kids – Texas and Oklahoma – leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, WVU must look as attractive as possible.
That’s why the rest of this season and next are important. Last season’s 6-4 record, even with a Liberty Bowl win, isn’t sexy. The 5-7 season of Neal Brown’s debut wasn’t either. In fact, one probably must go back to that Orange Bowl, four years after the spark of Rich Rodriguez’s teams, to find something truly dazzling. (WVU was 10-3 in 2016 and finished No. 18 after losing to Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but never seemed to capture the nation’s attention.)
The memories of Pat White and Steve Slaton and Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are waning.
Time to make more memories. And dazzle once again.
+ + +
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.