Allow me to preface this properly, same as I did when Oll Stew was in last place in the Big East and his job was clearly on the line. I truly don’t care who coaches the teams I cover. I might make light of what Marlon LeBlanc wears to a press conference. I might make a point of Dana Holgorsen and his water bottle. I might laugh about Bob Huggins and Jimmy Johns.
That’s different. It’s not my business to say someone has to stay or go, not my interest to try to get a guy fired or retained, not my ability to make such decisions without the full spectrum of knowledge and resources. I am but a beat writer with a blog, about as spoke-on-the-wheel as you can get.
Yet I do wonder where things are going with WVU baseball, and I don’t believe I’m alone.
I also don’t like the automatic assumption Greg Van Zant is finished and I really don’t like that a public that generally doesn’t care about or support WVU baseball has what I can best liken to a bloodthirst and a desire to see Van Zant pushed out the door with two hands. Listen, it is not a good situation, but just because Bill Stewart was asked, and then made, to leave doesn’t mean it will or even ought to happen to everyone. I promise you that torch-toting crowd has no voice, and not just with me. Again, I’m really nobody in this conversation.
Now, if you can make a case for Oliver Luck to make a move, that’s a different story. That’s discourse and debate and there are facts and figures to support both sides of the table and that tact is entirely acceptable. But just saying that Luck runs a bottom-line business and doesn’t accept mediocrity, blah, blah, blah, isn’t going to cut it.
Throwing stuff out there saying Van Zant is the worst Division I coach in the country — he’s not — or pointing at one final score (Morehead State 7 , WVU 5 with Luck in attendance at Appalachian Power Park) doesn’t add anything to the conversation. It’s too serious of a topic. It’s livelihood.
That all being said, don’t confuse me for naive. I know the score.
And here’s what I did not know. Luck made a rather sizable splash upon entering the Big 12 and gave WVU baseball the max allotment of 11.7 scholarships to be used for as many as 27 players. That, as far as I know, got no recognition and that, I can assure you, addresses a major limitation.
WVU was generally awarding between eight and nine scholarships. Only Villanova, Pitt and Georgetown in the Big East were under 11.7 and were typically above WVU.
“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 Mountaineers are bound this season because of injuries and a suspension. Van Zant makes the analogy that it’s been like asking WVU’s football team to win in the Big East with 65 scholarships instead of 85. He called it a “severe financial disadvantage,” and you almost have to agree. This area isn’t geographically or demographically friendly to a college baseball coach. A few extra scholarships can help any coach extend a little further or build a roster that’s a little deeper. Or, heck, both.
The more noticeable part of Luck’s investment in baseball was WVU’s ambitious and thus far empty effort to build a new baseball stadium off the Star City exit on I-79, a plan you can expect to see resurrected soon enough. But that new park is a must because WVU is kind of ashamed of Hawley Field, so much so that it will likely play Big 12 home games anywhere but Hawley Field next season.
“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.”
And here’s where I make your head explode: Van Zant has mostly freshmen and sophomores on his roster and it’s said he’s recruited some pretty good players for the next recruiting class. WVU really couldn’t use the 11.7 to its fullest this year because it came down so late in recruiting and Van Zant didn’t want to just sign guys because he could. The impact, he said, will first be felt for the 2013 season and could be stronger in 2014 after WVU plays a season in the Big 12. You could have a senior/junior-led team in 2014 with two classes under the 11.7 setup and the Mountaineers almost certainly will be in a new ballpark and, who knows, ready to do something significant again in baseball.
You see where I’m going with this? I won’t, but I do think it has to be part of the conversation.