An Allegany Radio Corporation Sports Column By Mike Burke

WVU watch: It would be nice if we could

MIKE BURKE
Allegany Radio Corporation Sports
ESPN-Plus has certainly fouled up the week for a lot of West Virginia University basketball fans; and its work is only half done.
Okay, it’s no fault of the actual streaming platform, or whatever it’s called (old person here), but as West Virginia currently stands as the No. 14-ranked team in the country and played No. 3 Kansas on Wednesday, and will play No. 1 Baylor on Saturday, it just doesn’t seem right that so many folks in a Big 12 state and region are unable to watch because they have poor or zero broadband (or no idea how to stream … hello, there!).
Two of the biggest conference games of the regular season, and the Big 12 can’t get either one of them on a network?
Heck, even Ben Roethlisberger rolled into Morgantown Wednesday night to watch the game, as the cave he is apparently living in does not have broadband.
(I don’t want to say Roethlisberger looked unkept, but I understand a young WVU fan was pretty upset when the autograph he had requested read “Ben Roethlisberger #7” rather than “Mountaineer.”)
If you don’t just love the Mountaineers, but need the Mountaineers, as roughly 100 percent of West Virginians do, then this is a problem. Of course, it’s actually not a problem at all for ESPN-Plus and the Big 12 Conference, They’re locked and loaded on their deal for the Big 12 Now on ESPN-Plus, and that appears to be the only thing that concerns the conference.
As Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in his response to a question posed by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on Tuesday during a Senate subcommittee hearing, “I’ve had the opportunity to respond to this question previously.“
Well kindly indulge us and respond to it again.
“We took a leap of faith and believe the ESPN platform is best in class,” he said. “So it’s a voyage of exploration. There isn’t any doubt about that.
“We live in five states with 35 million people, and as such there isn’t really the option of a linear network as some of the other conferences have done. The process is the best we have available to us, and frankly it’s quite good.
“We’re up to 8 million subscribers. We’re part of a package that includes Disney Plus that has about 30 million subscribers. The cable universe is shrinking about 1.5 percent to 2 percent a year. We’re going to have a lot fewer cable households down the road than we have today. And the digital platforms are the future.
“I was involved in the rollout of the Big Ten network and the Pac-12 network, and I have to say the number of complaints we’ve had has been much less than those two rollouts. But the objection you raise is exactly the right one. If you don’t have broadband that’s capable in a rural area, it’s difficult to get it. But we do have it available on a multitude of platforms, and for the most part that level of broadband is available just about everywhere.”
Translation: That’s the way it goes.
To which Capito responded, “Maybe it’s a little before its time, but it’s a source of irritation to us. I’m sure you understand that.”
Translation: Did I mention we won’t be able to see the games, you stiff, pompous, pencil-necked airbag?
Upon reaching the realization myself that I had built an entire evening at home around a basketball game I would not be able to see, my first question was, “What’s on Turner Classic Movies?” My next question was, “Why is a game between the No. 3 and No. 14 college basketball teams in the nation on the computer and not television?”
Because they had an NBA game on ESPN and Alabama at Auburn on ESPN2.
And the Big Ten Network doesn’t show Big 12 games if you can believe that.
The good news is, after Saturday’s game at Baylor, only one more WVU game will be on ESPN-Plus. The bad news is it’s the final regular-season home game against, you got it, Baylor.
Frustrating as it is not to be able to see the Mountaineers in two of the biggest games of their season, the task currently at hand remains the Mountaineers themselves. They don’t take care of the basketball and failed to do so again in letting an 11-point lead get away in the 58-49 loss to the Jayhawks
WVU hasn’t looked very crisp of late. Perhaps that’s due to a late-season wall that every team seems to hit around February; or perhaps it’s as simple as running into a resurgent Oklahoma team and the No. 3 team in the country back-to-back with No. 1 waiting at home.
The Mountaineers have had difficulty all season extending leads and closing games they’ve led in from the start. Nor do they appear to be a very confident team right now, as they seem to wait for the game to happen, rather than make it happen themselves, as evidenced by Kansas scoring the final nine points on Wednesday.
There is, however, no need to panic; at least not yet. Keep in mind, WVU is one of the youngest teams in the country and is still a solid 18-6 and 6-5 in a pretty darn good conference. And while nobody was sorry to see last season’s 15-21 team go the way of the rear-view mirror, it does take freshmen and first-year experience players to replenish any roster.
The truth is, WVU has been doing all right for itself this season, and Saturday’s game at Baylor will provide a great measuring stick. A win on the No. 1’s home court, of course, would be huge. It would provide a big boost for the March resume and for the confidence and bounce of a young team about to hit the backstretch.
However, it will be that backstretch; it will be what happens after the Oklahoma-Kansas-Baylor gauntlet that will matter the most. Win or lose on Saturday, it will be important for the Mountaineers to play well, for it will be how they carry themselves the rest of the way that will define and determine the season.
Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@alleganyradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT