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Chuck Landon: Marshall could've been a contender

Nov. 20, 2012 @ 06:59 AM

As conference reconfiguration begins anew, one profound error in judgment by Marshall officials looms ever larger.

MU administrators were asleep at the switch during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Remember those days?

Marshall football ruled. The Herd was the winningest major college football program in the ‘90s. It had star power with Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and, then, Byron Leftwich.

ESPN loved Marshall and as a result the Herd was nationally known. Marshall had a reputation. It was a national brand.

So, how did Marshall officials take advantage of that prosperity?

They didn’t.

Instead, they sat on their hands. Instead, they stood pat. Instead, they didn’t strike while the football poker was hot.

The prime example of their inertia?

Nary a single relevant athletic facility was constructed.

Not one.

That’s why current Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick is in the unenviable position of trying to strike while the poker is cold.

Very cold.

Imagine sticking your tongue on a flagpole during one of our recent frosty mornings. It’s that cold.

Skin-losing cold.

All because former Marshall officials didn’t possess the foresight to build on prosperity.

That’s the very reason UCF, Memphis, SMU, Houston and, now, probably East Carolina are biding adieu to Conference USA while Marshall remains behind with such leftovers as UAB, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Rice, Tulane and UTEP.

Yes, Marshall’s game against East Carolina at 2 p.m. Friday in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at Greenville, N.C., likely will be one of the final contests in this emotional series.

That’s because Maryland and Rutgers appear to be ready to leave the ACC and Big East, respectively to join the Big Ten. And, of course, that ignites the trickle down process.

East Carolina, which has long coveted Big East membership, should be the next C-USA member to jump. And who replaces Maryland in the ACC? Why, another Big East member by the name of UConn.

That, of course, opens up yet another spot in the transient Big East.

In a perfect world or, at least, one where former Marshall officials took advantage of unprecedented prosperity and positioned the university for a brighter future, the Herd would be a member of the Big East by now.

Instead, Marshall isn’t even a contender.

How discouraging to watch the tail-lights of such schools as UCF, Memphis, SMU, Houston, East Carolina and Temple fade in the distance while unwanted Marshall eats their dust.

So, who will the Big East woo if it has to replace Connecticut? Good question. All I know is it won’t be Marshall. But it certainly could be Tulsa, given the Golden Hurricane’s consistent football success along with the addition of high-profile new head basketball coach Danny Manning.

It even would work geographically with Tulsa being in the Big East’s West Division and allowing Temple to move back to the East Division where it belongs.

And who would replace East Carolina and, perhaps, Tulsa if all this would come to fruition?

Pick a couple from a list that includes Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, Troy, Georgia State and Florida Atlantic.

No offense, but none of those schools add much more than a hang-nail to Conference USA’s footprint.

So, while the power conferences grow more powerful; the Big East continues its transformation into C-USA, The Sequel; the original Conference USA becomes C-USA Lite; and Marshall absorbs the fallout.

That’s what makes Marshall’s current fund-raising venture so ironic. It’s called the “Vision Campaign.”

It wouldn’t be necessary, if there had been vision when it mattered. 

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

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