Baseball, Columns/Opinion, Opinion, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Mazey, WVU has proven many doubters wrong since joining the Big 12

MORGANTOWN — It isn’t exactly hard to figure out the unfortunate ones in college athletics.

They are the bottom feeders, the unofficial bye week or simply that one ugly duckling in what is otherwise a conference of dazzling beauties.

Think Temple back in the old Big East football days or DePaul back in the old Big East men’s basketball days.

As much credit as the SEC gets in college football, it’s doubtful anyone in that league loses much sleep during Vanderbilt week.

This was the life destined, it seemed back in 2012, for the WVU baseball program upon joining the Big 12.

Now baseball has absolutely no say in what happens in college realignment, but the whispers back in those days was WVU would drag down the reputation of what was otherwise a powerhouse baseball conference.

“You probably remember, when we first joined the Big 12, what everyone’s thought was about the baseball program and how much trouble we’re in,” WVU manager Randy Mazey said. “Here we are 10 years later celebrating a championship.”

The Mountaineers (39-18) will walk into Lexington, Ky. at 7 p.m. Friday to face Indiana in the NCAA tournament as co-Big 12 regular season champs.

That’s a statement that shouldn’t be thought of lightly simply considering the obstacle of location, not to mention finances and recruiting shortfalls that puts the Mountaineers at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the Big 12.

College football and basketball are nowhere nearly at a geographical disadvantage as baseball.

Take this NCAA tournament. Of the 16 regional hosts selected, 15 of them are located south of Morgantown.

If you think the SEC has the market cornered in football, you need to take a hard look at college baseball.
The ninth-place team in the SEC in 2022, Ole Miss, won the national championship. That just ain’t happening in football or basketball.

Weather and money mean more to success in college baseball than it ever will in football or basketball, even if it’s not generating the type of dollars those sports do.

“You watch the (NCAA selection show), and all they talked about were the geographical disadvantages for teams in the Northeast,” Mazey said. “Here we are with a geographical disadvantage over everybody we play, yet we’re still beating them.”

What was WVU getting itself into as a Big 12 baseball team?

Baylor finished last in the league this season, sporting the kind of team that played like it was being sponsored by Chico’s Bail Bonds.

The (Bad News) Bears looked every bit the part of one of those unofficial bye-week teams, and their No. 174 ranking in the RPI did the Big 12 no favors nationally.

Yet that same school has also made 21 trips to the NCAA tournament and has advanced to three College World Series.

In its current format — with Texas and Oklahoma still in the Big 12 — it’s the only other conference out there that can at least stand up to the SEC.

The thought was WVU would drag the Big 12 down somehow in baseball.

Sure, the Mountaineers had competed nicely during its Big East days, but they had no chance competing against the money and the natural recruiting advantages found with the southern schools.

“I’m sure everybody thought that,” Mazey said. “Why wouldn’t they?”

In its 11 years in the Big 12, WVU has finished last just once. It’s making its third trip to the NCAAs since joining the conference.

“As a coach, you get impatient and put pressure yourself and want it to happen right away,” Mazey said. “If you look back at the last 10 years, it probably happened the way it should have. You can’t do that overnight.

“For us to win the Big 12 and share the title, do you know how many great programs with great traditions we have beaten in order for that to happen? It’s so difficult.”

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