Priorities, not the game, have changed over time

BETHANY – There’s been a lot of talk in the days and weeks leading up to tonight’s 69th annual Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Football Game about whether or not the game carries the same meaning as it once did.

Much of that conversation centered around the fact that there was so much roster jockeying from the original rosters that Ohio head coach Jose Davis and West Virginia head coach B.J. Depew submitted to game director Bob Koch in the spring.

Whether it was because of college, work or another sport commitments, both head coaches were dipping into the talent pool much deeper than they had orginally intended.

OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak, Koch and the entire OVAC All-Star Game Committee have been wracking their brains trying to figure out a way to keep the best players. But, a solution isn’t quite as easy to find as it may seem.

“I don’t think the game has changed, but I do think society has changed,” Rataiczak said. “The importance of this game hasn’t changed. The priorities of some of the kids have changed.”

To a degree, I buy that because that’s evident in many sports around the Ohio Valley where you consistently hear that teams are battling low numbers.

But, as it pertains to the high-level players, obviously, I don’t think it’s a matter of their priorities. It’s just their priorities are different, and that’s the way they should be.

Some 10 years ago, the NCAA began allowing a Division I-A football scholarship to kick in for the summer term, meaning true freshmen reported to their collegiate destinations in June, rather than waiting until August when official camp begins.

Obviously, if you’re a Division I player, and the school you’re heading to wants you on campus, you can bet they’re going to be there.

That rule caused many all-star football games to change their dates either into the spring or into June just before the players leave. Is that a cure all? Absolutely not because some schools just don’t want their players playing because of the risk of injury.

“This game still matters to the adults and the football fans of the Ohio Valley,” Rataiczak said. “The kids, who have been in camp this week, really, really, really appreciate the opportunity they have. Obviously, it’s been a very bizarre year, and maybe one of the worst we’ve had, for replacing kids.”

Moving the OVAC Game into June is an idea, but one with a very faint chance of ever happening.

In this year’s game, one can safely assume – if they were able to play – that UMass signee Ross Comis (Madonna) and Youngstown State signee Jaylon Brown (St. Clairsville) would have been lining up for West Virginia and Ohio, respectively.

But, as Rataiczak pointed out, there’s no guarantee of that.

“The Ohio Valley has had some pretty good players and we’re in an up cycle of talent right now. You certainly can’t fault a kid who chooses colleges over an all-star game,” Rataiczak said. “They’d be stupid not to choose that.”

Obviously, Rataiczak, Koch and all of the football fans of the Ohio Valley would love for the “blue-chip players” to be able to shine one more time in front of the area fans in a game that many grew up dying to be chosen for.

But, there’s more to the Mumley Game than just football. It’s an event that basically serves as the kick-off to the season, the school year, etc.

“I don’t see it moving,” Rataiczak said. “You look at the middle of June and you’ve got senior trips, family vacations and there’s still no guarantee you’re going to get the blue-chip players. Before changing something, I want proof it’s going to work. I still don’t know that a big-time college, regardless of date or regulations, would allow its recruit to play in the game. A kid signs those papers and it’s like an investment.”

A handful of future Division I players have played in the game since the new NCAA rule began. Nate Davis reported to Ball State in 2006 and then convinced the Cardinals’ coaching staff to allow him to go home and play in the OVAC game.

Trent Neavin of Martins Ferry is currently on the Pitt roster. He played last year after having began classes and workouts. Austin Whipkey of Linsly is a captain for West Virginia this evening and he’s heading for Marshall.

However, those are few and far between.

Guys like Dan Monteroso and Jerrid Marhefka weren’t afforded the same luxury. And next year, it’s possible Austin Dorris, who is headed to Indiana, and Colton McKivitz, who is headed to West Virginia, will also bypass the game.

Those are just the future Division I players, too. This year, a few soon-to-be Division II college players opted against playing at the urging of their future coaches. Soon, it could trickle into those going to play at a Division III school.

For the player, the OVAC and the fans, it’s a shame. But, it’s what those kids have to do and that’s understood.

The game’s meaning and importance to the Ohio Valley sporting culture won’t waiver because of it, either.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com