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Senator defends bill intervening in WVU-Marshall basketball game

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — State Sen. Mike Woelfel admits the state has more pressing worries than whether West Virginia University and Marshall meet in a basketball game every year. Yet the Cabell County lawmaker with plans to introduce a bill mandating the Capital Classic continue contends there’s an insignificant amount of time needed to debate a matter the schools apparently can’t resolve on their own.

Woelfel, taking criticism about his plans to intervene in the scheduling of the state’s two Division I programs, appeared Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“Maybe this bill gets 30 minutes of time on debate in the Senate or 45 minutes,” he said. “If we can’t work together on something as inconsequential as a basketball game and come together as a state or bury regional differences, that’s symptomatic of a bigger problem.”

West Virginia and Marshall have met annually since 1978, but the series may not be renewed next year.

“I”m convinced the game is on life support if it’s not dead,” Woelfel said.

Marshall officials and coach Dan D’Antonio want the series to continue, but West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has ranged from lukewarm to dismissive about its importance and athletics director Shane Lyons declined Wednesday to predict whether the Classic has a spot on the Mountaineers’ future schedules.

“While we recognize there are fans who want to see the game return, our focus right now is on the Oklahoma State game this Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Coliseum, and the remaining Big 12 schedule in the coming months. Our men’s basketball team is 13-1 and ranked as high as No. 15 nationally. Our basketball staff is concentrating on winning a Big 12 championship.”

Surmising an end to the series would be a disservice to taxpayers and sports fans, the lawmaker said the game is a showcase for Charleston.

“The taxpayers, the citizens, enjoy the game. They support the universities,” said Woelfel, who earned his undergraduate degree at Marshall and studied law at WVU. “It’s a positive event. I don’t know why we would just let it wither and die.”

The first-term Democrat views legislation as a last resort only because university administrators aren’t in agreement about continuing the series.

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