I did not go to a big football high school or a big football college.
Full disclosure: My high school didn’t actually have a football program, and Mount Holyoke is an all-women’s college.
Now, a little late in the educational game, I find myself at a big-time football school, and there is a learning curve—the good, the bad, the fans and the ESPN coverage.
I’m still in my first season and we’re only four games in, so full Mountaineer allegiance has yet to spread to every aspect of my life. Get it! Spread? Look at me, making football jokes!
Small steps and five starter lessons—that’s my game plan.
Know the history in case of (slight) repetition.
West Virginia University football dates back to 1891. The first season team met one team on the gridiron. The early Mountaineers lost 0-72 to Washington & Jefferson College, which is now a Division III program.
The university skipped the next year’s football season, picked up in 1893 and went on to build a successful program. WVU holds a winning record overall, plus eight conference titles in the Southern Conference and seven in the Big East. The university recently transitioned from the Big East Conference to the Big 12 Conference, but more on that later.
Welcome to fan-town Morgantown.
There is no pro team in West Virginia. As such, the university program has a lock on the hearts of the state’s football fans, and those fans have the tailgate traditions and merchandise to prove their loyalty. I have not totally ruled out a fleece blue and gold coat for Charlie, but I think I’ll pass on the larger-than-life decal of a current player to affix on the side of my RV.
And though no campus is short on students indulging in the communal, show-your-support excuse to party, WVU fans—well, I can only think back to the time a fellow grad student saw an undergrad in the grocery story at 8 a.m., drunk and wearing only a football jersey and high heels. Also, two words: Coach burning.
It matters so much, even to the doe-eyed freshmen.
Conceptually, I understood WVU as a large school—even understood that it was a large school with a large football program—and by proxy, imagined that football would be a point of interest with at least 90 percent of the campus. Realistically, the footprint is larger and runs deep.
During the first week of class, my students and I made top 10 lists à la "The Late Show with David Letterman." More than 90 percent of the precious little 18-year-olds said in those voices that gave away their first-week homesick feelings that the football team played a major part in their choice of WVU. I asked how the past season had gone. My students grumbled about a lousy record but quickly supplied qualifiers upon qualifiers about it being the first year in the Big 12.
They lit up as we continued to think about the upcoming season and the promise of possibility. Maybe we got off topic, but there’s no beating classroom participation. Now, the first class after a game, my students and I talk about football, and suddenly, Monday mornings aren’t so bad.
We don’t like the Big East.
As my students explained, WVU didn’t have a stellar debut in the Big 12, finishing with a 4-5 conference record. Getting out of the Big East, however, proved to be an even rockier proposition. The 2011 college football shuffle in Irving, Texas, saw Texas A&M and the University of Missouri opt out and Texas Christian University and WVU opt in. The folks in New York at the Big East headquarters were rather distressed by the news.
An exchange of lawsuit and countersuit—bickering over who breached contracts and who failed to maintain a competitive roster of teams—later and ESPN is citing the Charleston Daily Mail’s report of a $20 million settlement. While the Big 12 will purportedly fork over $9 million of the lump sum, WVU will compensate its former conference $11 million, which actually means that, each year, $100 by $100, the cost of WVU student fees will be creeping higher and higher.
Everything is horrible!
OK, maybe that’s an embellishment for the sake of storytelling, but it’s not much of an overstatement. Right now, with two wins, two losses and a schedule of eight conference games to go, the talk is not sunny.
My students were not happy about a 0-47 loss to the University of Maryland, the first shutout for the Mountaineers since 2001. The student newspaper ran a Monday headline about the "washout" and the "Baltimore beatdown." There were articles questioning the stability of the coach’s tenure in Morgantown, heckling the disastrous offensive strategy and calling the quarterback roster "nothing short of a nightmare."
Yikes. Again, I understand that this is standard fare at big-time football schools, but again, I didn’t go to a big football high school or college.
Maybe game by game I’ll pick it up. I’ll tailgate. I’ll gear up in WVU apparel. I’ll become a true Mountaineer.
I hope, however, I will not end up drunk in the grocery store at 8 in the morning.
Because Charlie Barley Behringer could not simply disappear from Nooga.com, Mountain to Mountain will follow her and her mother's adventures, dispatch-style, in Morgantown as they tackle graduate school, first-year teaching and living in West by-God Virginia.
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