The legendary former head coach of Concord University's men's basketball team can spin a yarn like few others.
Like this one, about one his best players, Lewis Muse: "What made Lewis so hard to defend was that he'd jump in the air; the guy guarding him would jump, too, but Lewis would wait there until the other guy had to go back down to floor, then decide what to do. What he'd usually decide to do was score."
Cox played basketball in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Conference (at what used to be Salem State) and was a coach in the league for 33 years -- the last 21 as the head coach at Concord -- before his retirement in 2011. To many people, he was the WVIAC. And out of all the stories he told, he loved nothing more than talking about the conference's men's basketball tournament -- recalling names like Archie Talley, Tim Floyd, and Ron Legette, and recounting the big crowds that filled the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum to watch them.
The WVIAC Tournament started in 1936 and moved to the Charleston in 1960. When the conference disbanded in 2013, the new Mountain East held its conference tournament there. But longtime Charleston Gazette-Mail writer Mitch Vingle reports it might be the last championship held in at the CCCC.
The Mountain East has one more year on its contract with Charleston. But it has an out, and may move the tournament to a new host city -- with Wheeling, West Virginia as the leading candidate.
I've been fortunate to work five WVIAC/MEC tournaments, from 2010-2014. Over that time, even to my untrained, outsiders' eye, the decline in fan interest accelerated, even as the men's tournament featured some of the top Division II teams in the nation. (In fact, the greatest college basketball I've ever seen was the 2010 final between West Virginia State and West Liberty, an intense, crackling 108-107 classic in front of a roaring crowd that left fans as wrung out as the players.)
The final breakup of WVIAC in 2013 ended a seven-year stretch in which six West Virginia schools had left the league. That group included fan draws West Virginia Tech, Salem, and Alderson-Broaddus, which joined the conference in 1924 and had long traditions of success. During that same seven-year span, the WVIAC added two Pennsylvania schools -- Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill -- a move that never caught the fancy of Mountain State fans. So the Mountain East's struggles in Charleston aren't surprising.
Vingle writes that the MEC "(is) about innovation. It was founded on innovation," and that that Charleston, as the tournament host, no longer feels innovative. It hasn't for a while.
A city has to want to host an event like the MEC Tournament. Wheeling seems to want it. Charleston has to ask itself if it feels the same.