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Chuck Landon: Manchin push should keep WVU series going

Sep. 12, 2010 @ 12:00 AM

It's obvious.

West Virginia University does not want the football series with Marshall University to be a rivalry.

It's certainly obvious to Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick.

And, more importantly, it's now obvious to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin.

Hamrick already knew that, but Manchin wasn't aware of it until the Friends of Coal Bowl brunch on Friday at Marshall's Alumni Center in Huntington.

That's when the governor realized he was being played by WVU.

And he didn't like it.

Not one bit.

When Manchin learned a Friday morning meeting between Hamrick and new WVU athletic director Oliver Luck had accomplished virtually nothing toward extending the Marshall-WVU football series, he wasn't a very happy governor.

Then, when Manchin realized WVU officials were using stall tactics in an attempt to end a series the Mountaineers never really wanted in the first place ... well, reality set in for Manchin.

The reality is WVU officials detest the Marshall football series just as much as Manchin loves it.

Therein lays the tug-o-war.

Manchin considers the Marshall-WVU football series as his gubernatorial legacy. WVU considers it a blight on their existence.

That's why Mountaineer officials have been stonewalling. They know Manchin is likely to win the special election on Nov. 2 to succeed the late, great Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate. They know a Senator Manchin will be leaving for Washington, D.C.

So, they played the waiting game.

And it was working until Manchin saw through WVU's stall tactics.

That's what prompted Manchin's announcement at the brunch Friday that the series would be extended.

When Manchin realized the games that were being played off the field to try to keep the Marshall-WVU games from being played on the field, he summoned Hamrick and Luck for an impromptu conversation at the brunch.

The governor gave the two athletic directors a simple directive.

Get it done.

Where it goes from here will be very interesting. There has been talk of a 3-for-2 arrangement with a pair of the games being played in Huntington.

But WVU officials are adamant about not playing the game every year. Again, that is a means to prevent Marshall vs. WVU from being a rivalry.

It appears there definitely won't be a MU-WVU game in 2013, the season after the current seven-year contract expires. The Mountaineers have ensured that with their scheduling practices.

After that, WVU wants to play Marshall one season and, then, skip a couple of years. That's yet another way to down-play the rivalry.

The fact of the matter is an on-and-off series is no series at all. Which is clearly WVU's intention. That's the Mountaineers' plan.

Will it succeed? I have doubts based on one compelling fact. WVU officials stepped on Joe Manchin's toes.

That was a mistake.

A big mistake.

It prompted Manchin to issue the directive to Hamrick and Luck and, then, to tell the brunch audience that the extension "would make Marshall fans happy."

WVU has raised the governor's ire.

That's not a smart move.

It's also why Manchin made a point of telling the brunch audience that governors always get involved in intra-state games like this one.

If Manchin has any say -- and he will -- the MU-WVU series isn't likely to skip any years after the 2013 hiatus.

Joe Manchin isn't accustomed to losing power struggles.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827. E-mail him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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