A Study of Perpetual Mediocrity
The LSU game has left a bad taste in my mouth. The details of the game itself are well known, and the causes of the loss are widely agreed upon: poor coaching, worse game management and abysmal, uninspired playcalling.
For the purposes of what I would like to explain, let’s accept all of the above as a given. I’m not here to argue about why we lost this game. I’m here to point out why everybody shouldn’t be so damn OK with it.
I bleed Old Gold and Blue. I float during the highs (Final Four! 2006 Sugar Bowl!) and die during the lows (13-9). I will never start a website along the lines of FireCoachStew.com. I will always recognize effort on the part of the team and – when it’s present – on the part of the coaching staff. I got up at 5:30 in the morning to see us beat Coastal Carolina, then 2:00 in the morning to see us beat Maryland. My loyalties adhere to no rules of time enforced by man or even common sense. My loyalty is unquestionable.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t expect better; that I can’t expect more.
And you should expect it, too.
I’ve been agonizing over how to explain this point ever since the LSU game clock read all zeroes. At a loss of mere words, I turned to what I know: economics.
Then I made some graphs.
As many of you know, economics revolves around the relationship between supply and demand. Any economic principle comes back to this relationship in one way or another.
Behold that relationship applied to your Mountaineer football program: (we’re looking at the Stew years here, but it’s not a stretch to apply the same thought process to post-1993 Nehlen)
Supply remains constant and steady in this study. Quantity is expressed in wins per season. Since more wins “cost” more (in any sense you’d like, even the literal dollars and cents one), the line climbs higher on the graph.
Demand is you, me, and every other anybody that has anything to say or feel about Mountaineer football: boosters, alumni, the media (even that dickhead, Lee Corso) and the college football fan at large (maybe even fans of other Big East teams that root for a strong conference). In the context of this example, Demand is our expectations for the Mountaineers.
The success of the program is indicated by the point where the two lines meet: equilibrium. Here, and in every Coach Stew year, the level of success is nine wins per season.
So how does anything change? Of the two primary factors, only Demand is really changeable.
So what would happen if it climbed?
Demand has shifted UP in this graph, representing a fan base that expects a little bit more and is willing to pay a little bit more to get it. Sure, this includes boosters willing to literally pay more, but it also includes fans willing to bite a few more bullets. Willing to put up with a stronger non-conference schedule in which we may lose a few games at first, but would ultimately rise to meet the challenge of. Nebraska is applying this same thought even as you read this, and the experience from these tougher games will certainly pay off as they move into a more competitive conference next year.
Because the supply curve remains static, equilibrium shifts along with the demand curve. Where Mountaineer Nation expects more from the team (and I mean from Oliver Luck on down to the equipment manager), demand meets supply at 13 wins per season. In any given year, 13 wins and zero losses has a very high probability of representing a National Championship.
But Mountaineer Nation doesn’t rock the boat. We don’t collectively raise our arms and ask ‘What the HELL is going on here?’. We see Rich Rodriguez leave and write him off as a dickhead. Now, I’m the farthest thing from a Rich Rodriguez fan at this point, but isn’t it curious that our administration had a hard time keeping a born-and-bred favorite son of the state in Morgantown? He’s a jerk for leaving the way he did, but it wasn’t all him chasing that fat paycheck. He was getting a few raw deals behind closed doors.
More recently, however, we see the Mountaineers lose to LSU in a game that we could have won handily. Easily. Embarrassingly. If there was ever a night that LSU was going down in Baton Rouge, it was the night that we played them.
Yet take them down we did not. And the general reaction to this has been a general shrug of the shoulders and statements to the tune of “Well, it’s really hard to win down there.”
Yes, it is hard to win down there. But we could have. And we should be collectively upset that we didn’t. That doesn’t mean writing hate mail or sending death threats. It means subscribing to a higher standard; raising the damn bar.
What happens if we don’t? We stay inside Stew’s circle:
Because economics isn’t perfect (it’s mostly theory, after all), there are exceptions; one-offs. But these one-offs will never deviate far, and they will never shift equilibrium on their own. There will be highs and there will be lows. Exceptional performances, as well as lowly performances, will be followed by a return to the average. Baseball analysts call this ‘regression’: a batter with an average of .300 that is hitting .400 for the month will eventually calm down and return to .300.
In the case of our Mountaineers, consider these two polar examples that have taken place within the last 12 months:
Sure, we can beat a top-ten Pitt team at home on a last second field goal, but then we can also drive down to Huntington and completely shit the bed for almost the entire game. And in between? We win the Big East (maybe), but only because the conference is packed to the gills with miserably mediocre squads this year. Last season (in which the high of beating Pitt took place) is the best example of what to expect: wins against the teams we were always supposed to beat (with the one exception offset by a loss to USF, who we should have beat) and a comfortable slide to yet another Gator Bowl.
I’m tired of being the winningest team to never win a National Championship. I’m ready for more. I’m ready to try a few more deep passes. I’m ready to play the big boys, take our licks like men, and then take them down once we’ve risen to their level.
I just wish the rest of Mountaineer Nation felt the same way.