MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Remember that whole Orange Bowl era?
If you're a West Virginia fan, certainly you do. Those were heady times, weren't they?
The football team had just walloped Clemson 70-33, finishing off a season in which it won or shared its sixth Big East championship in nine years. It had won 10 games - the seventh straight season it had won at least nine and the 10th year in a row for at least eight victories.
The basketball team, three weeks after that Orange Bowl, was 15-5 and headed to its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance and its seventh in eight years. It was a run that included three Sweet 16s, two Elite 8s and a Final Four.
Oh, and the athletic department as a whole - primarily because of those two just-mentioned runs of success - was flush with cash. Well, OK, maybe not flush. But its head was above collective water, enough so that renovations to the football, basketball and soccer facilities were no cause for alarm. Nor were the increasing sums of money being paid to its coaches.
And, of course, there was that whole Big 12 thing. Goodbye flailing Big East, hello stability and security. While so many of its counterparts - Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, Rutgers - were trying desperately to find an escape hatch, West Virginia was already slipping through one. On the other side was a financial bonanza and, just as significantly, a place at the competitive big boys table.
Oh, boy, this was going to be good.
More than a few funny things happened on the way to paradise, though. Well, not exactly funny ha-ha, mind you.
In just over a year, the basketball team that was 15-5 a few weeks after the Orange Bowl has gone 17-28 and missed not only the NCAA tournament, but any postseason at all. Well, OK, there was a postseason. It was a defeat at the hands of a 20-loss Texas Tech team in a Big 12 tournament that ended before it began for the Mountaineers. Think of the early Big East days when WVU didn't even qualify for one tournament and was one-and-done in seven of the first eight at which it did compete.
The football team lost five in a row at one point and won one more game than it lost in finishing 7-6, despite the most prolific passer and receivers in school history. Even the consolation of qualifying for a bowl game turned into a nightmare with a non-competitive loss to a team, Syracuse, from the very league it had tried so hard to escape.
And all it took to accomplish that was $13 million. That's the approximate deficit the athletic department ran during the 2011-12 school year. And with declining attendance at football and basketball games as those seasons wore on, expect another deficit in 2012-13. The red ink isn't even beginning to disappear.
It helps little, either, that the NCAA's Final Four will be played this weekend with a field that includes two members of WVU's old conference (Louisville and Syracuse) and another with a former Mountaineer coach in charge (Michigan and John Beilein).
Yet despite all of that, one thing becomes only increasingly clearer as time marches on.
If West Virginia had it all to do over again it would do the same thing. It would pay all the money it took to escape the Big East, it would jump at the chance to join the Big 12 and it would take its lumps and hope for - and work toward - better days.
And it would be right to do so.