A trip to Huntington
There are those West Virginia University football fans who have said all along that West Virginia should not play Marshall University in football.
Then there are those WVU fans who recognize that there are compelling reasons for the two in state schools to play the game. They are, after all, the only two Division 1 football playing schools in the state. May as well play a Conference USA team every year instead of a MAC team for that seventh home game every year.
That scenario would make sense to some WVU fans, but that is not the way things have worked out. WVU has just six home games this season and played Marshall in Huntington last Saturday. That is because Joe Manchin, our governor, facilitated the schools athletic directors to sit down a few years ago and hammer out an agreement to play football.
With WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong, playing the game was never a real big issue, where the game was to be played, however, was an issue. The two schools met in 1997, Marshall's first season as a Division 1 football program. That game was played in Morgantown. The problem was Marshall had agreed to play three more games in Morgantown, but before any paper work was signed for those games Pastilong had cancelled three games to make room for Marshall.
That is when Marshall asked for one of the three games to be played in Huntington, or there would be no deal. Pastilong said no deal and a line had been drawn in the sand. Even when a new athletic administration came to the Huntington school, Pastilong held firm. No new discussions until Marshall came to Morgantown for the three games they had agreed to in the l'90s. Marshall politely declined any discussion which did not include the Mountaineers visiting Huntington, hence the stalemate.
I have been on record as firmly in Pastilong's corner on this one, and when Manchin intervened, I thought he was out of line. I still do, but outrage has turned into reluctant acceptance. In the eyes of a politician his move was a no brainer, though the terms of the deal have left WVU with just six home games this year.
At Manchin's request, the principals came up with a seven game deal. Four were to be played in Morgantown beginning last year. Two were to be played in Huntington. The first was last Saturday, the next one will be in 2010. The deal also called for the winner of two of the first three games to host the game in 2009. WVU accomplished this with a come from behind 48-23 win over the Thundering Herd and will achieve five home games in the seven game agreement.
There is plenty which could be discussed about the game like WVU's pass defense, but the real story was the enthusiasm of the people from Marshall and the city of Huntington. My party had numerous encounters with Marshall fans who simply came up to us and said "Welcome to Huntington, hope you enjoy yourself." Enjoyment began upon arrival Friday night when we were able to see Lonestar, the final act of an outdoor concert in Pullman Square. It was a bowl game like atmosphere.
Of course in the periphery there were a few near altercations among opposing fans, mostly the younger ones, but I am here to tell you the vast majority of WVU fans were treated very well. A few of my party were offered libations from a Marshall tailgate. Unfortunately, we also encountered stories from some Marshall fans who traveled to Morgantown last year and were treated poorly. Some of the stories are disturbing and I suggest right here that WVU may need to establish some sort of courtesy patrol to help squash that kind of rude treatment.
As nice as the Marshall faithful were to us, a common theme emerged in the watering holes we visited after the game. That theme turned out to be the Herd fans wanting the series to become home and home. Good thing most of them were buying, or I may have become testy.
I had just two things to offer those who wanted WVU in their stadium every other year. I was five minutes late (real time, not game time) to my seat because the mass of humanity in the concourse area could not move. Once inside the gate it was total gridlock. This game needs to be played in a larger facility. Period.
So, either they expand their stadium, or get the governor to build one in Charleston where the game could be played annually.