By CAM HUFFMAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Tony Caridi came to Morgantown in 1984, seven weeks after graduating from Syracuse with a communications degree, expecting to stay a few months and then move up the ladder in his broadcasting career. As he begins his 30th year with West Virginia University today, he now admits he'll be in the Mountain State for the rest of his life.
The WVU play-by-play announcer since taking over for Jack Fleming in 1997, Caridi's future with the Mountaineers has been questionable since the university signed a new media rights contract with IMG College. But Friday night while in Summersville for an "Inside the Huddle" fundraiser for the United Way of Southern West Virginia, the familiar voice said he'll be on the microphone when WVU opens up the 2013 football season Aug. 31 against William & Mary.
"We've been talking, and everything has been positive," said Caridi of his negotiations with IMG. "Everything's on course, and I would think that we will have an announcement early next week that everything's good and I'll be back."
Caridi has been put in the middle of a battle between West Virginia Radio Corporation, the company he's worked for for two decades, and IMG, the new kid on the block. West Virginia Radio formerly produced the WVU football and basketball broadcasts, but it did not win the bid for the new contract when it was announced in December.
Since then, West Virginia Radio has filed complaints and lawsuits, eventually forcing WVU to rebid the rights. Nothing changed, however, and IMG again won the contract in July.
Caridi has chosen to stay out of that battle and his instead focused on his profession.
"Anytime there's change, you just have to put things in the proper perspective on both sides," said Caridi. "It's going to be different. But I think the overall goal is the same, and that is to produce a superb product.
"Through the years, we've built a reputation as one of the best in the country. Now, the big thing for all of us is going to be to continue to put it at a high level."
Caridi is also the sports director for Metronews, a West Virginia Radio Corporation company, and has hosted the Metronews Statewide Sportsline — a statewide sports radio talk show — since 1986. Continuing that program, he said, was important in the negotiations.
"Sportsline has a very strong legion of listeners," said Caridi, who helped raise money for the United Way by auctioning off an opportunity to be co-host of the show for a night during Friday's event. "I think the program has been a lot of fun for me, and a lot of people across the state appreciate it. I think it's grown through the years, and they kind of count on it.
"That's just one of several things we had to deal with, and, fortunately, it all worked out."
Caridi said he's confident that he'll continue as the host of Sportsline in his new role.
Caridi also addressed a number of other issues with the crowd of about 70 WVU supporters Friday, including the Mountaineers' controversial move to the Big 12.
The WVU play-by-play voice said that while not optimal from a geographical standpoint, the move was a necessary one and a good decision by athletic director Oliver Luck.
"Had we not moved and then we're Connecticut sitting here today, we'd have a major problem," said Caridi, comparing the Mountaineers' position to that of their former conference rival, which is now a member of the American Athletic Conference. "Our biggest problem over the years is that we weren't in a conference with like institutions.
"The Big 12 schools are like us. They're West Virginia kind of schools, and West Virginia kind of people. Are we in the right place with the right schools? Yes. Is it weird? Yes. Will we get used to it? Yes.
Caridi was also questioned about WVU's defensive struggles last year and pointed out that it was a perfect storm that came together to create the Mountaineers' historically low numbers in 2012.
Caridi said that on that side of the ball, WVU was dealing with a new staff, a new scheme and new personnel.
This year, he said, the players have bulked up, head coach Dana Holgorsen has brought in highly successful coaches — moving Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator and hiring guys like Brian Mitchell and Tony Gibson — and the players seem to be buying in.
"I guarantee you here tonight, we'll be better on defense," said Caridi. "Because we can't be any worse."