Football gets no love from WVU fans in poll | News, Sports, Work

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Football gets no love from WVU fans in poll | News, Sports, Work


Photo courtesy of BlueGoldNews.com WVU coach Neil Brown is shown during a game from the 2022 season.

MORGANTOWN — Last Friday night, I spent a few hours at the Boston Beanery, a Morgantown eatery and bar within walking distance of both the Coliseum and Mountaineer Field, a mainstay on Patteson Drive.

I was with the normal Friday night group of oldies who gather there and, as always, the conversation was mostly about sports. Their televisions were tuned to sports, the PGA Canadian Open, the NCAA Baseball Regionals, whatever discussion there was on the countless ESPN stations about the NBA playoffs, the Belmont Stakes coming up the next day, the LIV-PGA merger.

There were the usual conversations about West Virginia sports between me and my friends and those friends we often talk to on Friday nights about the baseball team and basketball recruiting and using the transfer portal.

I mostly listened when people seemed to like me more, but as I listened something was missing… something I noticed more and more.

There was talk of everything but West Virginia football.

Earlier in the week I had run one of those unscientific Twitter polls that are online for a few hours and then disappear into “Nowhere” where such social media trivia rests. This proved nothing, of course, as it had no controls and really didn’t generate much online activity.

But that in itself was saying something.

First, how was the survey presented?

Very simple, actually.

WVU SPORTS POLL: Which sport do you most want to see next school year at WVU

Football

Men’s basketball

Women’s basketball

Baseball

No bias in the matter. Just straight up.

Every sport was in the news

— Football with its attempted recovery and with the worry about Neil Brown’s future as a coach

– Men’s basketball with the Bob Huggins radio bug and his transfer portal success

— Women’s basketball with a new coach

– Baseball with a third of the Big 12 Championship, JJ Wetherholt’s spectacular season and the Mountaineers’ quick exit from the NCAA Tournament.

I ran the poll for a reason, feeling that men’s basketball was rising in popularity and football was falling, but I have to admit I was surprised by the results.

Again, there was no huge answer and nothing scientific about it, but the results were truly astounding.

soccer, 17.8%

Men’s Basketball 71.9%

Women’s Basketball 2.2%

Baseball 8.1%

The WVU fans who responded appeared to have little or no interest in the upcoming football season compared to basketball and, surprisingly, only doubled their interest in the upcoming baseball season.

WVU has always been a football school. This generates revenue, stimulates interest in the entire sports program.

And yet there it hangs, at a level you don’t expect to see from any poll, least of all when next season rolls around and it begins with a game at Penn State and visiting Pitt in the Backyard Brawl in Game 3.

Just those two games in the front end of the season seemed to ignite a flame among Mountaineer football fans, but it just doesn’t seem to stick.

That should worry new athletic director Ren Baker. Now, it’s true that interest will grow as these games get closer … but considering the spring game is mostly played in private, one understands that the grip the sport once held on the imagination of its fans has slipped.

Why?

Obviously, the Neil Brown issue is front and center, so much so that Baker admits his mission this season is to evaluate Brown and the program.

Speaking on the podcast “Three Guys Before The Game”Baker said his judgment won’t be based on win-loss record like fan judgment is because there are too many outside factors that can affect that.

Instead, Baker will look at the process.

“I think for me, I want to see if we’re doing things the right way,” he said. “Are we recruiting and retaining players? Are we playing disciplined football? And do we feel like there’s momentum to keep building?

“We know that wins matter. I understand that I don’t hide from that. I was pretty clear that we need to win more games. Coach Brown knows this. He hasn’t hidden from that and I’ve seen him say many times, “I know we have to win.”

“But I think as an AD you’re paid to be careful, deliberate and analytical in your approach to accessing it, not to be emotional and just focused on the bottom line.”

To be sure, the Brown situation casts a shadow over the upcoming season, but changing times also require a changing approach to the public relations aspect of the sport of football.

The thing is, it’s hard to get excited about people—read that as players and coaches—that you don’t know. Media access to players is strictly limited, more so than before. This is a time when players appear much more for their NIL sponsors than for the media that can create images of the players.

With two rivalry games and four new Big 12 opponents, this is sure to be an intriguing year for WVU football, a time when WVU must stake its claim in a league that will be without Texas and Oklahoma and look for leadership in football .

What you have more than ever is a large, diverse media that can be reached through Zoom press conferences where coaches and/or players can be brought in on a weekly basis to introduce themselves and talk about who they are, who want to be, their dreams, their past, their likes and dislikes.

The off-season, in particular, is a chance to create “discovery opportunities” for the returning players and the many new faces coming in as freshmen and transfers. There is nothing to create the feeling that existed with WVU in the past, which was that the team was an extension of the state, other than to humanize those who play for the team and coach the team.

Requests for individual interviews should also be granted when possible…they always seem to find time to introduce players to the national media who call for individual opportunities, but rarely do for those from across the state.

We’re in a new world where broadcasts focus on the analytical aspects of sports, on strategy over humanity, but what will sell West Virginia’s football program at a time like this is a more personal, down-home familiarity with those who represent the state as players and coaches.

That 18% who are less interested in a football season that begins with Penn State and Pitt that offers a new slate of Big 12 opponents … that’s a scary number, especially if things get worse early this season.



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