Should There Be an Express Lane For WVU Athletics Honors?
In Part I of our look at West Virginia University’s system for honoring standout athletes, we broke down the three levels that currently exist and the qualifying criteria for each. With that as the base, we now turn the lens to a related topic: Should there be a means by which players can be honored more quickly than the current rules allow?
This discussion was sparked most recently by the end of basketball star Jevon Carter’s career. By any measure, the Maywood, Ill., native ranks as one of West Virginia’s all-time hardwood greats and the greatest defensive player in Mountaineer history. National awards were almost routine for him over his final two seasons, as were appearances on any list of the collegiate game’s best defensive performers. Should that, though, make for an express lane around the current process?
To be sure, this isn’t the first time that protests have been heard. When quarterback Pat White finished his WVU career, many of the same arguments were heard. The levels of honors were different at the time (including the now-defunct jersey retirement), but the logic was the same: “Here’s a player who is probably in the Top 10 all-time in this sport in school history. Why should he have to wait to be elected to the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, or to be considered for number retirement?”
The major limiting factor for Hall of Fame enshrinement, as it currently exists, is the time requirement. For athletes, 10 years must elapse since their last season of eligibility before they can be considered. (For coaches or administrators who have worked for at least 20 years at WVU, they are eligible for consideration for the Hall immediately upon their retirement.) Should players who are “no brainer” Hall selections be allowed to vault that ten-year restriction?
At the risk of incurring the wrath of many, my view is no. That’s no disrespect intended for Carter, who will without question be a first ballot WVU Sports Hall of Famer and an immediate concurrent inductee into the Mountaineer Legends Society in 2028. Making an end run around the existing criteria just opens up a whole other set of questions. Who decides which players should be eligible to avoid certain criteria? Should every graduating player get a chance at it? Is there a separate committee formed to consider early entry? There are just too many items in play there, with the potential of setting up even more controversy. Thus, my vote is no.
Perhaps the better method, however, would be to question the criterion itself. Is a waiting period of 10 years too long?
The opinion from here is yes. That initial span was put in place when the WVU Athletics Hall of Fame was established in 1991. One of the reasons for that decision was that with such a backlog of athletes to go through and consider, the Selection Committee didn’t want to be swamped with new ones piling into the process. Now, though, with much of that backlog addressed, it seems like the time limit could be reduced. It is good to have some sort of buffer between the end of a career and selection consideration in order to provide proper perspective, but at this point ten years seems excessive. Five years seems more like it.
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One other set of criteria in determining the ultimate Mountaineer honor – the retirement of a number – has also drawn a good deal of debate. Again, as we noted in the initial installment of this series, the levels of achievement for number retirement are steep:
1. Athlete must have earned an undergraduate degree from WVU
2. Athlete must be a member of the Legends Society
3. Athlete must elected to WVU Sports Hall of Fame
4. Athlete must be elected to a national collegiate or professional Hall of Fame for his/her sport
5. Athlete must have brought prominence to WVU and his/her sport as a member of an Olympic or international team or in the professional ranks.
Items two and three are givens, as they are the first two levels of potential WVU honors. I see no problem with the first, either, even with the debates about amateurism and pay for play surrounding the college game. Getting a degree is still an important part of the college experience. It’s the second part of item four, and item five, that might leave some room for debate. Should achievements after the candidate’s WVU career be part of an honor that is initially based on West Virginia achievements? It’s hard enough to get elected to a college or pro hall of fame — is the additional requirement for achievement on the pro or or Olympic level too much?
Again, I’ll be contrary to what I am sure is the popular view — I believe the criteria are fine as they are. It should be very difficult to achieve ultimate honors. It’s not the Hall of Very Good — it’s the Hall of Fame. Getting a number retired should be special — and it is at WVU. The Mountaineers have retired just five numbers — Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley in basketball, and Ira Rodgers, Sam Huff and Bruce Bosley. Keeping very definable criteria also lessens the pressure on those evaluating number retirement. There has to be a great deal of sentimental pressure for anyone under serious consideration for this honor, and making the achievements as cut and dried as possible means a more fair evaluation for all.
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At some point, maybe Jevon Carter will be up for this ultimate honor. However, the likely next person on the list is Rod Thorn. A member of WVU’s Hall of Fame and the Mountaineer Legends Society, Thorn was recently selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, meeting the first four criteria on the list. He would certainly seem to qualify under the fifth item, having been an ultra-successful NBA executive as both a general manger and in the NBA front office.