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Mountaineer Gameday: National telecasts allow WVU to audition for other leagues

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Big East Conference announced on Tuesday afternoon its members had agreed to require teams to pay $10 million to withdraw from the league.

Maybe. It came with a weird little condition and all depends on if the conference can get a new team to join before someone decides to leave.

In short, if WVU or any school wants out, it can do so for the old fee of $5 million as long as that action is taken before the Big East invites and accepts a new member.

I sat down to write this later in the day Tuesday knowing full well WVU, Louisville, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Connecticut or South Florida could be gone by the time it was edited for print, let alone by the time you read it. And yes, that's the entire remaining roster on the Big East's football side.

Anyone could go to any conference because all the Big East really did was double what a team would pay to flee the Big East.

No way $10 million total or even $10 million more is going to stop a school from getting out of a bad spot to get into a better one. And no way any of those prospective members the Big East would like to - and eventually will - invite accepts the invitation if the vote to raise the fee isn't unanimous.

In truth, college football's free agency period knows no end. Everyone's walking down the same tunnel, staring at the same light at the end and getting no nearer than they were so many steps, weeks and months ago.

And so don't expect Dana Holgorsen, the man in charge of the football team at WVU that is charged with paying the bills in the athletic department, to continue to push the level of expectations higher and higher.

It was two weeks ago when Holgorsen, in his first season and in an outfit that featured none of the symbols of the WVU coach, be it old gold or blue, a flying WV or even a coal miner's helmet with the light bulb fixed atop it, stood behind the podium at his press conference and spent four minutes waxing the team's followers.

Not waxing on the followers. Waxing them. It was kind of brutal, especially when he spoke of LSU with reverence for the way it packed its enormous stadium despite the circumstances surrounding the game, and said, "You want to talk about an elite program? That's one. I don't know about this place."

This place. Not my place, our place or the place paying him a prorated salary of $1.4 million this season. And while it may seem like he's disconnected or does not care, that's really not true. He wants the connection and he does care. That fan following he took apart is one he wants to rebuild.

WVU fans like to speak about their passionate and dedicated following. Sometimes 15,000 empty seats make a stronger argument. WVU fans rage against the idea a school like Missouri is more valuable to a conference like the SEC. Sometimes a thin crowd on cold, wet days speak louder.

"It all ties in," Holgorsen said.

The truth here is Holgorsen knows what he has and does not have and he wants to develop what's missing to complement what's present.

A win tonight against Syracuse (4-2, 0-1 Big East) positions WVU as, once again, the best team in the Big East. ESPN cares enough to show this game at 8 p.m. tonight, opposed only by Rutgers at Louisville (ESPN2), while everyone else playing the sport is either off for the week or sequestered in a hotel room.

Both tune in and pay attention. That matters outside the Big East, rest assured.

But it doesn't end there. It continues next week when Rutgers (5-1, 2-0) plays host to the Mountaineers. ABC thought enough of that game to give it a 3:30 p.m. slot. This is not WVU's only chance to prove itself in and out of the Big East, should the school ever choose to travel the latter path, but it's a significant showcase and Holgorsen does not want to fail.

Not knowing what he already knows about his new home.

"I think the product that we put out there is very appealing to a whole lot of people," he said. "People want to come to West Virginia because of what you see. The atmosphere, the excitement, what you're putting out there on the field, what the athletic department brings to the table, perennial Top-20 programs in football, men's and women's basketball. Why wouldn't you want to be a part of it?

"The geography is fantastic, the landscape is fantastic. Why wouldn't West Virginia be attractive from a conference realignment standpoint and from a recruit's standpoint? I firmly believe that."

He found out he had some company two weeks ago when 56,179 showed up to watch the Mountaineers beat a very plain and uninspiring UConn team.

That prompted a follow-up to his address from days earlier, one he was happy to field, as evidenced by the smile on his face when he spoke these words.

"It was great," he said. "It was a great environment. It's what we're after, right? The kids hit the field and there was a lot of excitement. It's not for me, I can assure you that. It looks like everyone was having a heck of a time out there, tailgating and enjoying the weather and enjoying a good product on the field. It was an exciting atmosphere and an exciting environment."

Can it sustain? That's up to the Mountaineers as much as it is the fans.

These two road games are significant and WVU has just two home games left. One is against Louisville, which again won't inspire with one of the worst offenses in the country. The second is against Pitt and, well, that ought to be undeniably ugly, not because of anything the Panthers have done as a team, as tame as that has thus far been in Coach Todd Graham's first season, but because of the school's defection to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

If the Mountaineers can navigate all of that, as well as a looming showdown against Cincinnati and the annually aggravating game against South Florida, then coach, players and fans can prove themselves in ways others will finally have to acknowledge. The Big East may be teetering. It may be rebuilding. The Mountaineers might stay. They might go. None of that matters for what WVU does this season on the field, though all of that may matter for what WVU does next.

"There's something to be said here at West Virginia for, 'I get to play for West Virginia' as opposed to 'Golly, I get to play TCU,'" Holgorsen said. "I never bought into that. We're going to continue to recruit the same people and sell what we have as opposed to who we play.

"To me, it's more the place where you're at and what you have to offer. West Virginia, not only from a football standpoint, but men's and women's basketball from the product that Coach (Mike) Carey and Coach (Bob) Huggins put out on the court, it's a very attractive situation. The support is here, the finances are here, the facilities are here, but can get better. The product is pretty good."


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