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Move to Big 12 unlikely to affect WVU's recruiting plan

MORGANTOWN - Perhaps one of the most tiresome things I'm forced to hear when it comes to the shifting landscape of college football and conference realignment is the obligatory question coaches have to answer regarding recruiting.

OK, so part of that is personal bias on my part. I loathe the public scrutiny given to recruiting in this Internet age.

Oh, so there's a 17-year-old kid that some guy has deemed a four-star recruit who has verbally committed to your school? Great. Nudge me when he actually signs on the dotted line and then wake me up for real after - or, more to the point, if - he qualifies academically, proves that he has the requisite work ethic to succeed, and then actually does.

But I digress.

No, what we're talking about today isn't even as concrete as a verbal commitment. It's the apparently-compulsory question that those in my profession who have been drawn to the Dark Side (giving as much or more credence to recruiting as to the actual games) ask each time there's another conference shift.

"So, Todd Graham, how does Pitt moving to the ACC change your recruiting base?''

"Hey, Doug Marrone, how concerned are you that Syracuse being based in a more southern conference will affect your Northeast recruiting region?''

And, of course, to West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen:

"Coach, how does moving to the Big 12 affect the areas you will recruit?''

That one, naturally, followed earlier questions about how TCU joining the Big East would affect the same (August), how being stuck in a crumbling Big East would alter things (September after Pitt, Syracuse and TCU bailed), how adding Houston and SMU and potentially Boise State would broaden recruiting horizons (early October), and how the uncertainty of the on-again, off-again, on-again relationship with the Big 12 weighed on the minds of recruits (November).

Granted, perhaps those are valid questions. Maybe all the shifting does refocus recruiting. Perhaps it does open or close a door or two here and there.

But as far as 90 percent of the recruits West Virginia will go after and get are concerned, none of it really means much of anything. It may change the message and the approach of Holgorsen and his staff when they go recruiting, but that's entirely about what you're selling, not where you're selling it.

In other words, West Virginia isn't suddenly going to be getting most of its players from Texas and Oklahoma and Kansas. It may get a few, but not because some kid wants to go 1,000 miles away from home just so he can return to the region a couple of times a year - or to a specific locale twice in four years - and play in front of his family. If he wants to do that, he'll stay home in the first place.

No, if West Virginia gets kids from Texas, its simply because that's where half of WVU's coaches are used to recruiting. They've gotten a running back (Dustin Garrison) and two quarterbacks (Paul Millard and committed recruit Ford Childress) so far, and that was before the school joined the Big 12. They'll get more, but being a part of the Big 12 will be a very small reason.

Of course, in answering all those recruiting-area questions, Holgorsen has been all over the map. He talked about TCU helping when TCU appeared to be coming, then switched the message when that fell through and it appeared the Mountaineers were going to be stuck in the Big East. That's when he talked about kids wanting to come to WVU for what WVU offers, not all the extraneous stuff.

Now that the deal with the Big 12 is done - or at least done save for the legal wrangling and an exit date from the Big East - Holgorsen was asked again about the message to recruits and if it changes.

"I think it will eventually, but it's tough now because it's just talk,'' Holgorsen said. "Whether it's next year or the next year or the next year, what do you tell them? It's the same stuff.''

The truth is, no matter the conference, West Virginia will be telling the same stuff to the same recruits. They're the ones in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida and the handful from West Virginia, which is where WVU was recruiting for two decades under Don Nehlen and it hasn't changed. Over the years, other states have been in and out of the mix - New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina - usually because someone on the staff had connections in those places.

WVU's new connections now are in Texas and the Southwest. Maybe joining the Big 12 helps that out a bit. But it will be just a bit, not some wholesale move to recruiting half the roster from Texas.

"We've already expanded into Texas,'' Holgorsen said. "And from a geographical standpoint, you still have to take care of your backyard, the neighboring states and what exists here in West Virginia.

"We need to make sure we take care of this area. Florida's been really good to us, so we'll continue to go down there.''

Here's the real point that recruitniks tend to miss, however. West Virginia isn't suddenly going to be playing most of its games in the Southwest. In an average year, there will be trips to four Big 12 venues. That's only one-third of the regular-season games. In most years, there will be four Big 12 teams coming to Morgantown and two or three non-conference opponents doing the same. And the non-league road games each year aren't likely to be anywhere near cattle country - maybe Maryland, hopefully Pitt, perhaps East Carolina.

The fact is, this is still an Eastern-based school playing most of its games in the East, which isn't going to suddenly spark an influx of Southwest recruits.

"We're still playing seven of our 12 games here,'' Holgorsen said. "Those seven games don't change, and whoever you play non-conference will probably be fairly close.

"You don't want to go find people specifically for those games. You take care of what you have here, which is what's made West Virginia a great program, by targeting the neighboring states and Florida. We'll branch into Texas, but we've already done that.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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