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Could Bill Stewart Save The Big East?

Jeff Woollard@JeffWoollardCorrespondent IIJune 29, 2010

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13: Head coach Bill Stewart of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts during the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Several factors have combined to help shorten this year’s off-season for fans of the Mountaineer football team.

The first was an injury to Eugene Smith’s foot that prompted Coach Bill Stewart to move spring drills into April. A move that turned out to be a windfall for attendance at the annual spring game, it is believed this year’s spring game had the highest attendance ever.

The second was Bob Huggins’ WVU basketball teams Final Four run. WVU seldom plays basketball in April. Although, with Huggins as coach that appears to be changing. Annual deep runs into the NCAA tournament are becoming expectations in Morgantown.

The third was the hiring of Oliver Luck to replace the retiring Ed Pastilong as athletic director. Pastilong will be retained in an emeritus roll.

Finally, the NBA draft became a major story for WVU fans. Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks were drafted No. 42 and No. 43 respectively, Butler by the Miami Heat and Ebanks by the Los Angeles Lakers.

The first half of 2010 has provided Mountaineer fans with excitement and interest seldom seen during this time of year.

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As Mountaineer fans enjoy their Fourth of July celebrations, it will be exactly two months until the football team kicks off their 2010 campaign, a campaign that could potentially decide the future of not only Bill Stewart as head coach, but also the viability of the Big East to continue as a BCS football conference.

Since 2004, the year of the defection, the Big East has been reviewing its options regarding expansion. To date none of the options available has provided additional members.

In fact, it was the consensus that the Big East would be destroyed by a major realignment in college football. While everyone in the east was preparing their bugles to play taps for the Big East, the winds of change, changed.

The early predictions of the great realignment of 2010 fizzled to five teams changing conferences. None of which remotely represented a Big East member. Still, speculation persists that the Big East’s day of reckoning is on the horizon.

What, if anything, can the members of the Big East football conference do to dispel the negative speculation regarding its future? Win football games.

The Big East out of conference schedule presents an opportunity for member schools to prove their validity on the field against opponents representing other BCS conferences. How that out of conference slate stands at the end of the season, and subsequent bowl season, could go a long way in determining the Big East’s future.

Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan, Washington, Miami(Fla.), and Boston College are just a few of the marquee out of conference games slated in 2010.

Big East fans should circle the weekend of September 25th on their calendars.

Pitt starts the weekend playing a Thursday night contest, September 23rd, against Miami(Fla.). Yet, it is the Saturday games that will tell the complete tale of the Big East’s overall strength as a football conference. Cincinnati plays Oklahoma, WVU plays LSU, and Rutgers plays North Carolina.

Should the Big East exit the weekend undefeated in the four games mentioned, Big East stock should be on the rise.

Pre-season projections show Cincinnati, Pitt, and WVU as the three favorites to win the Big East conference crown in 2010.

Which team represents the Big East in the BCS is not as important to the future of the Big East, as a victory by that representative. As with the late September games, a BCS victory by the Big East conference champion would provide the conference with a much needed boost in esteem.

The windfall could provide Paul Tagliabue with the much-needed respect to bring cable executives to the bargaining table for an enhanced television package. Which could strengthen the Big East enough to allow it to survive conference expansion, and effectively end speculation of the Big East‘s demise.

Enter WVU head mentor Bill Stewart stage left. The opportunity is presenting itself for Bill Stewart to not only solidify his position as head coach, but to potentially carry the Big East football conference through a tumultuous 2011. Heady stuff for the favorite son from New Martinsville.

As with the Big East, Stewart’s perceived value is less than optimum. To improve that perception, Stewart needs to win football games. Additionally, capturing the Big East’s BCS bid and winning the associated BCS bowl game would significantly boost Stewart’s approval rating.

For the record, Bill Stewart is the last Big East head coach to win a BCS bowl game.

Stewart has been quoted as saying that the 2010 version of the Mountaineer football team has 12-0 talent, and 6-6 leadership. As with any team sport, team chemistry will ultimately determine the success or failure of this years WVU football team.

Ironically, it is an intangible that fans must look to for tangible results.

There is an old adage that states that necessity is the mother of invention. When applied to WVU football and Big East football by association, a more accurate statement may have never been spoken.

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