MORGANTOWN - Cleaning out a crowded notebook and a cluttered mind on the 10th anniversary of what was essentially the end of the most comfortable period ever in West Virginia University athletics:
Ah, those were the days.
No, it wasn't the most successful era, or the most financially rewarding. It wasn't the longest, either, by any stretch.
But the baker's dozen years between 1991 and 2003 marked the end of WVU's long search for an identity. The Big East, in order to satisfy its members, had delved into football and invited the Mountaineers to the party. Five years later, they would include WVU in the basketball party. After a quarter century of searching for a league and an identity since leaving the Southern Conference, the school had pretty much everything it ever hoped for.
And then 10 years ago Monday, the ACC's presidents formally voted to invite Miami and Virginia Tech. Boston College would soon follow. It was the beginning of the end for the Big East and a signal to other leagues and schools across the country that the free-for-all for greener pastures was on.
No, it didn't happen right away.
It was two more years before the Big East began plucking clean Conference USA. It was another seven before Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, respectively. Then all hell broke loose with Pitt, Syracuse, TCU, Boise State, Louisville, Rutgers, Maryland (and so many others as fallout) either coming or going, sometimes both.
Complain all you'd like about the seismic shift in the college landscape and the still-escalating arms race that has
gone along with it. Bemoan West Virginia's part in it or celebrate the school's soon-to-be-escalating wealth as a result of it, that's your choice.
But don't pretend that you don't yearn for a simpler time in which the Big East football conference was both strong and regional, the basketball assemblage was the best going and West Virginia was a part of it.
That ended 10 years ago Monday and your life as a fan hasn't been the same since.
Why I remember this so vividly so many years after the fact I'm not sure, but one of the best college football recruiters in the country once said that getting a verbal commitment from the players in the area he recruited often guaranteed only one thing.
"Most times,'' he said, "it means you're going to be one of his five visits.''
I guess that sticks with me because I'm continually amazed that media coverage (read: internet) of recruiting continues to expand. Just when you thought the monthly whims of 17-year-old athletes couldn't be chronicled any more comprehensively, they become the weekly whims, sometimes the daily whims.
This is not meant to criticize the athletes themselves, because they are merely the fodder for recruitniks. If they weren't being asked daily and incessantly about their state of mind regarding their college choices, they might just sit back and weather the onslaught of recruiters (another story, by the way) without uttering a peep.
Granted, some take to the attention and play it for all it's worth, enjoying the celebrity status of it all. But you also have to wonder how many simply commit to a school, then to another, then another, just to end a conversation.