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Big Green gains, preseason ranks and Classic tips

WITH JUST 68 days until Marshall and West Virginia mix it up at Mountaineer Field ... oh, take another deep breath and enjoy the summer.

In the meantime ...

  • Thundering Herd fans are feeling upbeat these days, and are showing it with their wallets.
  • The Big Green Scholarship Foundation reports a nearly 70 percent rise in membership, from 1,900 in 2008-09 to 3,214 members in the now-closing 2011-12 academic year. In that period, MU officials say that membership has risen from 10th in the current Conference USA to third, behind East Carolina and Central Florida.

    That's encouraging, and so is this: There is a 40 percent-plus increase in donations in the $2,500 level and up and up. And that's with the separate Vision Campaign to improve facilities.

    Speaking of that, the Memorial Field House has been coming down for a few weeks.

  • The MU football team must fight for every bit of respect. But you knew that.
  • The Orlando Sentinel has fun with its preseason rankings, revealing teams once a day beginning with No. 120 New Mexico. Marshall is 67th, 15 spots behind just-revealed UCF.

    The Herd is ranked ahead of C-USA foes East Carolina (82), Rice (97), Texas-El Paso (107), Memphis (112), Alabama-Birmingham (114) and Tulane (116). Houston, Tulsa, Southern Methodist and Southern Mississippi have yet to be named.

    Also beware: The Sentinel lists Ohio at No. 56.

  • The Colonial Athletic Association is a garage league.
  • Presidents of that league reaffirmed last week that Old Dominion and Georgia State will be disqualified from all conference championships in 2012-13. As you know, they committed the heinous sin of leaving for other leagues - ODU to Conference USA and Georgia State to the Sun Belt.

    Go ahead and tell me the by-law has been there for years, ODU voted to approve it and Georgia State tacitly agreed to it when it entered the league in 2005. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    It's still bush-league, just as it was bush-league when the Mid-South Conference slapped WVU Tech for applying for NCAA membership. This penalizes a few hundred athletes purely out of spite.

    This won't happen in Conference USA, thank God. It appears the worst "retribution" the holdover league members will commit against the defecting four schools is the recent refusal to award the 2013 basketball tournaments to Memphis or Orlando.

    I have seen one Memphis-based national columnist call the move by C-USA presidents "cutting off its nose to spite its face." His name or outlet will not grace this space.

    Odds are, if an action makes Memphis writers grumble, it's the correct action. And so it is here.

  • Jerry Sandusky is guilty of well-documented unspeakable acts.
  • I have nothing to add to the national disgust, but I do have a plea: Get the sentencing over with before Aug. 23.

    I'm not sure why, except to follow any relevant Pennsylvania statute, that we need a pre-sentencing report, or even a sentencing hearing. Sandusky is going to get the maximum 400-plus years, a sentence that could be just as easily handed down via video from the local jail.

    It will be bad enough to drag America - not to mention Penn State - through another emotional wringer. The school will have enough painful moments in the months to come, what with two other criminal trials and any number of civil actions.

    What we really, really don't need is a sentencing circus during a Penn State game week. Nittany Lion players are innocent bystanders in this mess, and do not deserve that type of distraction.

  • Tiger Woods' appearance is scaring off a few golf fans from the Greenbrier Classic.
  • Emphasis on "a few." I offer this anecdotally, and I figure these cases won't outnumber the fans lured by the sport's biggest name. But there is an element of panic I have detected that should be addressed.

    Stop panicking, people.

    The well-quoted figure for the "Tiger bump" in crowds is 30 percent. Greenbrier Classic officials weren't even sure they would let badge sales increase by that much, and have indeed cut off sales for the first time. (Wednesday is the last day, folks.)

    There are, as I detailed in my June 3 column from the Memorial Tournament, a few things you need to keep in mind when following Tiger. It's not that the overall crowd will be more fearsome, it's just that more of them will dial in on Tiger's group.

    As I wrote, only partially in jest, your biggest issue in following him may be bladder management. At Muirfield Village, restrooms nearest the green where Woods was would get instantly crowded. (Good news: I think the port-a-potty situation at Old White is much better.)

    My biggest concern is when Woods tees off at No. 1 and approaches the 18th green. The bridge between the two areas is the course's top bottleneck in any situation, and stands to get a little tougher this time. (And God bless Steve Fox, the long-time West Virginia Amateur contender who has helped direct traffic there.)

    Other than that area, the course gives you many options. With a good map in your back pocket, you will find quick ways to get ahead of the Tiger group and then watch it go through. For instance, you can zip from No. 7 and No. 8 to the 11th easily, and then go from 11 and 12 over to the 17th in a few steps.

    And if you're not feeling up to Tiger-watching, you may find more elbow room on the rest of the course. There are 155 other players, right?

    (One hopes that any idea of pairing Tiger with Phil Mickelson will be squashed. Let one start the first tee and other on the 10th on Thursday and Friday, I'm thinking.)

  • I'm guessing Bubba Watson will play in the Classic. In 2013.
  • Word has it the 2012 Masters champion would love to come here, but it cannot happen this month.

    As you may know, Watson and wife Angie adopted a baby boy shortly before his magical hook around the Augusta pines earned him a green jacket. Those who have adopted children can testify to the numerous procedural headaches, and that might have come into play with Watson's schedule.

    The resort would be ideal for the couple, as it has been with some of the tournament's better players. In Columbus earlier this month, some nut case tailed the Watsons for more than a half hour after the "Bubba Bash" Christian rock concert.

    By the way, with the commitment of Webb Simpson, the Classic now has the two highest-ranked Americans in the world (Woods fourth, Simpson fifth) and its first standing major champion.

    Simpson has played in the first two Classics, missing the cut in 2010 and tying for ninth last year. The fact he committed to coming back three weeks after he won the U.S. Open speaks well for the tournament and for our hospitality.

  • 7-on-7 football has already gone overboard, and it probably isn't coming back.
  • It reminds me of what Charles Barkley said recently about AAU basketball. Speaking on the Jim Rome show June 13, he called it "the worst problem in the world."

    Not the sport. The world.

    But 7-on-7 tournaments may end up being worse, and it distresses me to learn ESPNU has decided it would be a good idea to televise it.

    Maybe my youngest son has the right idea when he repeatedly watches Spongebob Squarepants and the Power Rangers.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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