Failure at Annapolis will undermine West Virginia moderates, say analysts
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MORGANTOWN – West Virginians are warning that the failure of a coming Rich Rodriguez peace conference, convened by the US, could undermine chances of a two-state solution and may threaten a return to the state's trademark violence against upholstery and Rodriguez-related paraphernalia.
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin reiterated after talks with defense secretary Robert Gates in Ann Arbor Monday that the conference, scheduled for Annapolis, Maryland, next week, would focus on core issues - such as ending the alleged bounty on Rodriguez's so-called "shreddin' hand" should he ever re-enter the Mountain State - rather than detailed negotiations, fuelling fears that the talks could carry unacceptably high risks.
The athletic department denied it was behind the campaign but said it was not responsible for any property damage the mob might cause if talks fall trough. "We can live without a conference but we can't live with a conference that fails," said a close adviser to West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong. "The university is committed to a peaceful resolution, but the people have less patience."
WVUSports.com, the fundamentalist Mountaineer Web site credited with organizing the state's Appalachian Strip, says the proposed conference with Michigan is a Big Ten-One World Government trap and renewed calls for the Big East to pull out of the Bowl Championship Series.
Privately diplomats in Bristol say they doubt the conference can produce a positive result and fear the consequences if it does not. "It would be a disappointment not to have a conference but a conference ending in failure would be a disaster for the West Virginians and everyone else," one assistant producer said. "I am not sure Pastilong and [new Mountaineer head coach] Bill Stewart will be able to survive it."
Martin underlined Michigan's opposition to any major school directly south of Lake Erie, which he dismissed as "upstart organizations" whose coaches would not be freed from potential poaching. "West Virginia has only been playing football since 1893," he said. "We only recognize the legitimacy of programs that show some staying power."
West Virginia said there will be no peace plan unless Michigan halts the construction of recruiting inroads south or east of Ohio. The Michigan administration admits a few Wolverine assistants have entered the region, but characterizes them as coaching clinic aides rather than recruiters.
West Virginia reported that four recruiting-related phone calls from Ann Arbor landed in the Jeannette region Monday but resulted in no injuries or soft verbals. Later tempers flared when a Wolverine Web site attacked a message board poster in Morgantown, briefly disabling the site with a constantly repeating spam message from Rodriguez's December 2006 press conference: "I will plan to be at West Virginia a very, very long time...I plan to be at West Virginia a very, very long time...I plan to be at West Virginia..."
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has made six trips to West Virginia this month to broker an agreement, but a timetable for an independent, championship-level program not awash in Rodriguez's lengthy shadow is still elusive.
"Sustained success takes time," Pastilong warned. "No one can seriously expect that within this short span of time between now and the end of recruiting season we can achieve what we haven't been doing in the last 40 years."