Luck grants max scholarships to WVU baseball
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia baseball team's new beginning won't wait until the 2013 season, the school's first in the Big 12 Conference.
Athletic Director Oliver Luck gave Coach Greg Van Zant the authority to award the NCAA maximum of 11.7 scholarships for this season.
"We've never had the full 11.7 before," said Van Zant, whose team played Morehead State at Appalachian Power Park on Tuesday night. "We came into the Big East in 1996 and we've had some pretty successful seasons and some really good players, but we've been operating on about 75 percent of the scholarships we're allowed.
"Even in the Big East, which is still a pretty good conference, there's no way you can regularly compete. If everything goes well you can do well, but if you've got injured players of if guys don't pan out, all of a sudden you're in a big bind."
The scholarship shortage and the lack of depth is stinging the Mountaineers this season. WVU lost its top starting pitcher and hitter to injury. A starting catcher and a power hitter has been suspended.
His backup, a junior college All-American part of the most recent recruiting class, withdrew from school after a concussion and side effects. Van Zant has one senior on his team and is starting four or five freshmen and running others out to the mound.
"Imagine the football team playing in the Big East with 65 scholarships instead of the full 85," said Van Zant, who said his team has typically been permitted to award between 8 and 9 scholarships.
Van Vant, who in 18 seasons has won 516 games, a Big East regular-season and tournament title and two Big East Coach of the Year awards, has nevertheless had players.
Fifty have been drafted or signed minor league contracts. Six Mountaineers were All-Americans. He's coached two conference rookies of the year, one conference pitcher of the year and one conference player of the year.
Fifty-four were all-conference players, one was a first-round pick, two were second-round picks and three made the Majors.
And he's never played with a full deck.
WVU, Villanova, Georgetown and Pitt had been the only teams without the full allotment. WVU and the other eight future Big 12 schools - Iowa State doesn't play baseball -have the full complement.
The 11.7 scholarships can be spread out across up to 27 players and Van Zant said it's the best way to build up pitching depth. His WVU teams have been among the Big East's best - and sometimes the nation's best - hitting teams. The pitching has lagged.
"I think we've done extremely well with what we have the last few years finishing third, eighth and fourth in the conference," he said. "It's a severe financial disadvantage when you're trying to compete against these teams with the full amount of scholarships.
"When you don't have the full amount of scholarships, you can have a good team once in a while, but everything has to work out right. Now that we've been upgraded, it's going to take us some time to build our team up to where it has to be."
Van Zant said it was too late to make a recruiting splash for the most recent recruiting class. He said many of the most desired players were already off the board and he didn't want to sign players simply because he had the resources.
He said the impact will begin to be realized next season. By 2014, he'll have a team with mostly juniors and seniors, two classes with 11.7 scholarships and, ideally, will play in a new ballpark.
"Our two biggest problems hurting us have been not being fully funded and our facility," Van Zant said. "Our athletic director told us he's going to spend on scholarships and he's going to work on getting us a facility. I'm excited about this."
Van Zant, who is specifically grateful to Luck's predecessor, Ed Pastilong, for getting WVU into the Big East and making minor upgrades possible, is the first to admit Hawley Field needs help.
The lights have been upgraded and a batter's eye was erected in centerfield in recent years, but there is no changing area or clubhouse for home and visiting teams. Both dugouts need upgrades.
"The truth is we came into the Big East in 1996 and had a pretty decent Atlantic 10 facility and it was never really upgraded," Van Zant said. "Our facility right now ranks eighth or ninth in the (12-team) Big East and it would be dead last - and by far dead last - in the Big 12.
"We can be good in baseball and I think we have been good, but to be good where we're going, you've got to have a facility and you've got to have scholarships."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.