Monday, December 11, 2006

Mountain Momma Gonna Play Foobaw

So WVU's Rich Rodriguez became the latest Big East coach to stiff-arm a high-profile job offer in order to stay at a Big East school. Cynics will say that he used Alabama's slobberingly desperate interest to jack a raise out of his employer and alma mater, which is true - though he ended up with far less than he would have made at 'Bama. They may also point out that staying in the Big East is going to ensure an easier path to a BCS bid most years, which is possibly true, though for all the thud and blunder expended on behalf of SEC football this year, all of their highly ranked teams looked pretty durn beatable at one time or another. None of that matters.

What seems to be going on is that despite the best efforts of the rest of the BCS to denigrate, pillage, and otherwise ruin the self-esteem of the Big East, it's turning into a place where long-term football success is built. One of the ways in which the big conferences have always protected themselves from the quote-unquote little guy - in basketball as well as in football - has been to cherrypick the best talent before it can establish itself on that level. Someone's having success at Xavier? Here come the job offers from Virginia and Wake Forest and Ohio State.

This does two things - it brings talent to the big schools, and it keeps the smaller, less well known ones from building continuity. Continuity under a successful system turns into tradition, and all of a sudden a plucky underdog turns into a quote-unquote power, and a down-on-its-luck conference turns into a player. It went on at Gonzaga just a touch too long before someone swooped in and grabbed the coach, and now the Zags are a genuine power. It's happening all over the MVC, and for all the yammering from the talking heads, that looks like it's going to stick as well.

And so help me, the groundwork is being laid for it to be done with Big East football. Rodriguez has chosen to stick around and build. So has Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Bobby Petrino at Louisville looks like less of a sure bet to last long-term, but at this point the L's got its own momentum, as the Schnellenberger legacy lives on.

Howard Schnellenberger, right? You remember him? Once upon a time, he took this little, tiny private school with lousy football facilities that nobody took seriously and turned it into a national power. I think it was called Miami.
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