Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Death of Eastern Football

It's pretty much a done deal and in many ways the future looks bright for West Virginia athletics. The SEC is the king of football, just as the Big East was in basketball. What Bobby Huggins did to take West Virginia to the top echelon in that league can be mirrored by Dana Holgerson in football. If he is successful, this could mean that he remains here for a long time instead of looking for greener pastures as his teams do better and better. But we have lost something important along the way. Eastern football.

A long, long time ago, and not in a galaxy far away, and not when the music made me smile, Eastern football challenged the South and Midwest for supremacy among the college regions. Penn State, Syracuse, Pitt, and, sometimes, West Virginia made a lot of noise in the college football world. Eastern football gave us Joe Paterno, Jim Brown, Doug Flutie, Major Harris, and countless players and memories that resonate nationally.

Back then, eastern colleges played as independents. Penn State tried to organize an eastern conference, but could not get everyone to play along. Finally, in frustration, they accepted an invitation to join the Big Ten. This move started the slow seismic changes that erupted in the college football landscape and led us here.

As it turns out, the Big East conference only represented a temporary reprieve. It was too small, too dominated by Miami. too poor, too traditionless to succeed. Had it attracted Penn State and Notre Dame, it could have rated alongside of anyone, but such moves never happened. Over the past ten years, West Virginia has carried the banner. It has remained the most consistently successful and most interesting team of the bunch.

Had the ACC thought ahead and foreseen the advent of 16 team conferences, it might have saved Eastern football by bringing in all the remaining traditional eastern teams as a unit. This would have preserved rivalries such as Boston College and West Virginia that sustained the former team. BC lost to Duke last week; how far they have fallen. This move did not happen either.

And now Eastern football divides. West Virginia (I want to emphasize likely, since nothing has been confirmed) initiated the final death by entering into unreported discussions with the SEC that prompted the quick moves of Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC. At this point, with even venerable conferences, such as the Big 12, dying, WVU found its long term position in the Big East untenable and made the best move possible. The ACC and Big Ten will pick up the usable pieces of the shattered Big East football schools while the basketball only schools likely shrink into an Atlantic 10 calibre league.

This is ugly and to be regretted, but WVU AD Oliver Luck cannot be the only one to cling to a fading tradition while everyone else moves along.

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