• By John Antonik
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  • August 22, 2011 11:47 AM
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Since it’s the first day of classes at WVU I thought it appropriate to have a little history lesson, so let’s step into our time machine and go back to 1953, the year West Virginia University almost got into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

First, a little background information is in order.

West Virginia joined the Southern Conference in 1950 to give the league an unwieldy 17 members spanning five states from South Carolina to West Virginia and including Washington, D.C. West Virginia athletic director Roy “Legs” Hawley turned his compass south when he couldn’t make any progress on an all-sports conference with some of the Eastern schools the Mountaineers were frequently facing in the late 1940s.

From the very beginning of WVU’s membership in the Southern Conference there were competing interests, the smaller and the bigger schools frequently at odds.

Then in the summer of 1951, the Southern Conference joined the Big Seven Conference and its top football program, Oklahoma, in banning members from participating in post-season bowl games as part of an on-going movement by a number of NCAA institutions wishing to de-emphasize college football.

Tulane and Vanderbilt spearheaded a de-emphasis program in the Southeastern Conference that didn’t get very far (it did not include the banning of bowl games), and new Big Ten member Michigan State was also in favor of banning bowl game appearances.

The decision by the Southern Conference to ban bowls was bitterly opposed by Maryland, then one of the top football programs in the country with Big Jim Tatum running the show in College Park, and Clemson, which frequently fielded bowl-caliber teams. Both Maryland and Clemson opted to play in bowl games that year anyway, the Terps defeating Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl to finish with a perfect 10-0 record, and Clemson losing to Miami in the Gator Bowl. As a result of those decisions, Clemson and Maryland were deemed ineligible to compete for the Southern Conference football title in 1952, thus setting in motion the eventual withdraw from the Southern Conference of those two schools, along with the Carolina schools, to form the Atlantic Coast Conference in the summer of 1953.

Seven months later, in early December, two months after the University of Virginia was invited to become the ACC’s eighth member, West Virginia and Virginia Tech were also under consideration for additional league expansion. From the time of the Southern Conference split, West Virginia and Virginia Tech had supporters who wanted them brought into the league along with Virginia as a package deal.

And West Virginia’s candidacy became even more appealing when the Mountaineers won eight regular season games and were invited to play Georgia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, adding to the school’s already sterling reputation for having a first-rate college basketball program (In 1953, the Southern Conference opted to remove its bowl ban, enabling West Virginia to accept the Sugar Bowl bid, although the Mountaineers had to forfeit 75 percent of their bowl proceeds to the league in order to go).

Virginia Tech was appealing as well because it was a charter member of the Southern Conference, was located near most of the schools in the ACC, boasted a solid academic reputation and its athletic program possessed a great deal of potential.

The ACC met on Friday, Dec. 4, 1953 in Greensboro, N.C., and during the meeting University of North Carolina Chancellor Robert House officially moved to admit West Virginia and Virginia Tech as the league’s ninth and 10th members. But ACC President James T. Penney of South Carolina ruled the motion out of order since the matter wasn’t officially on the agenda. Following a short closed session, the eight schools decided to table expansion for an indefinite period of time because West Virginia and Virginia Tech could not garner the necessary two-thirds votes to gain admittance. There was a four-four split in the voting, although the schools for and against were never publicly revealed. The reason for tabling the motion was obvious – support for membership wasn’t clear cut, both parties wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a public discussion when the Mountaineers were getting ready to play in the Sugar Bowl, and some ACC members believed further expansion would detract from the original goal of having the close, compact association it had developed at its outset.

In the same light, ACC vice-president F.W. Clounts of Wake Forest made it clear that the Deacons supported Virginia Tech’s membership but not West Virginia’s because of the great distance between Morgantown and the rest of the ACC (at that time there was no Interstate highway system and air service was just getting off the ground).

West Virginia and Maryland also didn’t see eye to eye on issues related to its football programs. Tatum wasn’t pleased with West Virginia’s support of the league’s bowl ban rule in 1951, and he also accused the Mountaineers of using some ineligible players during a game between the two schools early in his Maryland coaching tenure.

West Virginia’s failure to gain admittance into the Atlantic Coast Conference was one of athletic director “Legs” Hawley’s biggest disappointments. Just three months after seeing his alma mater denied admission into the ACC, Hawley died of a heart attack in March, 1954, at age of 53.

You could say Hawley died of a broken heart.

Even today, as West Virginia University continues to thrive as a proud member of the Big East Conference, there are still many old-time Mountaineer supporters who have always held the Atlantic Coast Conference in such high regard.

They remember how close West Virginia came to joining the ACC.


  • By John Antonik
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  • August 22, 2011 08:53 AM
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When Devon Brown asked for a release from his scholarship at Wake Forest, one of the first places he thought about calling was West Virginia.

Brown, the Northern Virginia player of the year his senior season at Stone Bridge High after rushing for more than 1,700 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns, said he always had his eye on the Mountaineers even though the Mountaineers never really had their eyes on him.

Brown knew Ryan Clarke when Clarke played high school ball at DeMatha and he was good buddies with former Mountaineer star Brandon Hogan, Devon admitting that they would sometimes talk about attending college together.

“This was actually the place coming out of high school that I was interested in, but I didn’t have an offer,” Brown said last week. “Brandon and I wanted to go to college together, but we couldn’t do that.”

Devon said he also considered FCS power James Madison before ultimately choosing Wake Forest, and three years later when he decided to move on, his good relationship with James Madison actually helped steer him to WVU.

“JMU was a place I actually thought about going to and that’s when I decided to go to Wake. My recruiting coordinator there, we had a good relationship, and I still talk to him from time to time,” Brown said. “He knew Coach (Shannon) Dawson and he gave me his number and it took off from there.”

Brown got in touch with Dawson and asked him if there were any openings on the Mountaineer roster for the 2011 season, his last as a college player.

“I just told them who I was and what my situation was and how I got his number,” Brown recalled. “He was just talking to me and with the offense they run they were short on receivers, especially in the slot. They moved (tight end Tyler) Urban to the slot and he told me to get him a tape, they looked at it, and I guess they liked what they saw.”

Brown led the Demon Deacons in receptions last year with 39 and had 61 catches as a sophomore in 2009, but most of those were around the line of scrimmage on bubble screens and short routes across the middle. Brown admits he was looking for an offense that would allow him the freedom to do more than the stuff Wake was permitting him to do.

“At Wake they basically ran the same offense we did when Coach (Jeff) Mullen was here. He brought their offensive system and their schemes here and Jock (Sanders) ran like little, short crossing routes and ran little bubble screens,” said Brown, who says he really likes Coach Dana Holgorsen’s offensive philosophy of dictating things to the defense.

“The biggest thing I like about (this offense) is they are going to run their offense and make the defense adjust to the offense,” Brown said. “They are not going to adjust their offense according to what the defense does. That was like a big decision point for me, and it made me want to be here because I knew we were going to spread the ball and throw it, run it, and I wasn’t going to have to worry about running four-out one week and no tight end, and then the next week use the tight ends. We did that a lot at Wake; here I know what it’s going to be.”

What Brown offers WVU is another experienced guy to put into the mix at wide receiver. Presently Brown is working with Urban at Y.

“He’s more along the line of Tavon (Austin) and Jock Sanders last year,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got game experience and he’s got a great attitude. You talk about a kid who is happy to be here playing in this type of offense and making the most of it. I’ve coached a bunch of seniors that this is their last go-around and you get a lot out of them.”

To make sure he fit in, Brown got Hogan to give him the cell numbers of some of the guys on the team so he could get to know his future teammates a little better.

“He gave me Tavon’s number when I was thinking about coming here and I talked to Tavon before I came here,” Brown said. “I came up here a few times during the spring and I got to meet a few people, so the transition was a lot easier than I expected it to be.”

Getting along with the guys was important to Brown, but equally important was getting along in the system.

“At Wake I would just run underneath routes and little, short five-yard speed-outs. Here, if I am one-on-one with the linebacker, I have the option of doing different things. I can go down and beat him over the top,” Brown said.

Brown said the coaches frequently talk about “finding grass,” which means get to an open area in the defense.

“They give you a distance of between 12-14 yards and they tell you to find the open spot,” Brown explained. “That definitely gives you a lot of freedom to use your ability and your skills.”

And gaining more freedom was exactly what Brown was looking for when he decided to move on from Wake.

He says he couldn’t be happier right now.

“I am loving everything - just being around the guys,” he said. “I was worried when I came here, but I definitely fit in well, and everyone has accepted me well and I like all of the guys who are here.”