MORGANTOWN — In the beginning, it was fine.
The students were on edge, gathered outside the Coliseum, huddling for warmth, laughing and having the kind of time you are supposed to have as you wait for the gates to open before a game against their Backyard Brawl rival, Pitt.
The chanting then was acceptable, echoing off into the Morgantown evening.
“Eat pooh-pooh, Pitt!” they chanted, although it was somewhat more poetic in real life.
No one could complain. They were among themselves, these students, gearing up for the evening.
When the gates opened they descended upon the Coliseum student section like a band of fire ants, scurrying for position, wanting to be where the unblinking eye of the television cameras could show them in all their zaniness.
As students, they have that right, as long as they keep some semblance of sanity in their actions.
But it became obvious this was a group looking for trouble even before the first tip-off, a group of pathetic losers disguising their ill manners as backing the home team.
As Lisa DeMasi sang the national anthem, those same chants of “Eat pooh-pooh, Pitt!” rang out in the arena. Let us repeat when this was taking place, during the singing of the national anthem.
Sitting directly across from the student section, front row at midcourt, was James Clements, the man who serves as president of the school. When approached about the matter of student behavior on Thursday morning after presiding at the groundbreaking for the new basketball practice facility and the rehabilitation of the physics building called White Hall, he displayed genuine disgust for what he had witnessed the night before.
“C’mon,” Clements said, “during the national anthem. It’s not acceptable. I was appalled.”
It was the start of a disgraceful performance from a group of students who have proven in the past that they can do better, who brought pride upon themselves and the school when a grieving Connecticut team came into Morgantown.
Now, they are teetering upon costing themselves the right to so much as attend West Virginia basketball games as a group.
“We’re are taking this extremely seriously,” Clements said.
His day had started with e-mails about the behavior that progressed into phone calls. Administrators held meetings later in the day, discussing ways of putting a leash and a muzzle on this group that threw items onto the court when upset and that was verbally abusive to Pitt and to the youth and women in attendance at the game.
“We will do what we have to do to control this,” Clements said. “We are looking at every possible strategy.”
The time for talk seems to have passed. Indeed, the director of student affairs, Ken Gray, had sent an e-mail out after a previous student uprising, coaches had signed a letter and that was published in the student newspaper and coach Bob Huggins had taken the microphone at courtside to admonish the students in the strongest way he could.
It clearly was having no affect, and with a huge game against Villanova looming on Monday night, there is a sense of desperation in the administration.
They are talking of installing security cameras to have an eye-in-sky to catch those who may be abusive or throwing things. There is talk even of banning the students for a game – perhaps the Villanova game – or of doing away with the student section entirely.
Let them pay full fare if they wish to attend and act like that.
Huggins, like the rest of the administration, was disappointed in what had transpired.
“The only time its acceptable to throw things at people is playing dodge ball, and we all stopped doing that years ago,” Huggins said.
There is a deeper problem than just immature, objectionable behavior.
“We’re trying to be the best, not one of the best,” Huggins said of his basketball program. “That will not happen if you don’t get TV exposure. When we are recruiting a player, if he has to ask what kind of system we run, we won’t get him. TV lets people see us.”
By their behavior, the students are risking cutting back on television exposure, for ESPN and CBS or any other network doesn’t want to bring the student’s language into the living rooms of good families across America.
“We want schools like Ohio State (against whom there was the first sign of bad student behavior) to want to come here and play,” Clements said. “We don’t want it to get the point where they won’t come. And we don’t want to get to the point where the TV stations don’t want to show our games.”
There probably will be some action soon and it probably will not be action that the students want to deal with, but they have no one to blame but themselves.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORGANTOWN — In the beginning, it was fine.
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