West Virginia University football is held to high standards.
The Mountaineers are in their fourth decade of consistently strong play under coaches Don Nehlen, Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen. Three times since the 2005 season, WVU has reached Bowl Championship Series games and has won them all. Led by this football success, WVU has moved into one of the nation’s true power conferences — the Big 12.
As West Virginia prepares to open the 2012 football season by hosting Marshall at noon Saturday at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, athletic director Oliver Luck has made no secret that he also has high expectations of WVU fans.
There is no question that WVU has passionate, loyal followers. When the Mountaineers play at home, there are more people inside the stadium by far than in any city in the state. Its fans travel well, although they will face a challenge as the distances increase significantly with the move to the Big 12.
A relatively small number of “fans,” though, can tarnish an institution’s reputation. It’s difficult to hear some folks say they just wouldn’t think of taking their kids or grandkids to Morgantown to watch a football game because of obnoxious behavior. These people — and they’re obviously not confined to WVU — can’t stop at a few drinks, or they want to show they can whip the world, treat opponents as enemies or use language that is simply embarrassing.
Luck began putting a focus on fan behavior last season, when controlled beer sales were first allowed inside the stadium and fans leaving were no longer issued pass-out tickets and allowed to return to the game.
“We don’t want to lose any of the raucous, home-field advantage that we have because this is a hard place to play,” Luck said. “At the same time, we’ve got opposing fans who travel to WVU, and we want them to leave Morgantown with a good impression of the university, the city, the state and of our fan base. We also want our fans — from kids to grandparents — to enjoy the game.”
He saw some progress last season, and he is intent on the situation being even better this year.
Here is part of a letter sent to fans this summer:
“As everyone knows, the excitement level for the football season is at an all-time high. Six of the seven home games are sold out, with just a few seats available for the Kansas game on Dec. 1. Selling out that many games before the start of the season has never happened before, and obviously the Big 12 platform allows our university to shine brightly on a very big stage.
“However, with this opportunity comes the responsibility to put our university and our state in the best possible light. One of the things I am focused on is asking each and every Mountaineer fan to act responsibly at all of our athletic events, and that includes the tailgating festivities at Milan Puskar Stadium. Think about this — we will have a bunch of folks from Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas making their first-ever trip to West Virginia. Let's all make a pledge to go out of our way to welcome those fans to Morgantown and to West Virginia University. Let’s make sure that we extend a friendly hand at the tailgates, invite visiting fans over for something to eat and thank them for coming to visit our beautiful state.”
Luck noted, “Just like your parents and grandparents used to tell us, we only have one chance to make a positive first impression.”
Luck, of course, doesn’t want a subdued atmosphere. Fans just need to use their brains and know where that “line” is and don’t cross it.
“Now, please understand that I still want a loud, intimidating and raucous crowd in our venues,” Luck said. “We don't want to compromise the home-field advantage that has helped us over the years create one of the best home winning percentages in the nation. So be loud in the stadium, be raucous in the stands, but go out of your way to welcome our Big 12 brethren, while feverishly cheering on the Mountaineers.”
WVU football has reached the big time. Now Mountaineer fans face the challenge to prove that they, too, are among the nation’s best — for behavior as well as enthusiasm.
West Virginia University football is held to high standards.
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