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Chuck Landon: Obnoxious WVU fans put school on hot seat

Oct. 10, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

West Virginia University is facing a burning crossroads.

Pun intended.

Since the Mountaineers have joined a new league -- the much more prestigious Big 12 -- WVU leaders are trying to get the notoriously raucous, unruly faction of the fan base to embrace a new decorum.

Even for Morgantown and its infamous steep streets, this is an uphill fight.

But give president Jim Clements and athletic director Oliver Luck credit for at least trying.

They are weary of WVU fans' seamy reputation. They are tired of apologizing to visiting teams, parents and fans after they've been victimized by boorish behavior at the hands of Mountaineer fans. They are fed up with WVU having a black eye nationally because of obnoxious, obscene fans.

As well they should be.

The classlessness has grown old.

That's why Clements and Luck should be applauded for recognizing it, taking responsibility for it and attempting to improve it.

They are doing the right thing.

Now, the trick is to convince the renegade faction, which gives the other undeserving Mountaineer fans a bad reputation, to accept this kinder, gentler attitude.

It isn't going to be easy.

The outlandish behavior has been tolerated, accepted and, yes, at times cultivated for too many years to suddenly change overnight. It began during the Rich Rodriguez regime and, then, simply seemed to catch fire.

Again, pun intended.

But, now, with WVU joining such prestigious schools as Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State and on and on in the Big 12, it is the perfect time for the Mountaineers to unsoil their reputation.

I mean, after being the "Bad Boy" of the Big East, does WVU really want to wear that same tattoo in the much more civilized Big 12?

I hope not.

And so do Clements and Luck.

They realize WVU has a bad reputation and its not the sort of baggage they want to carry into a new league. So, they're working to change it.

How goes the uphill battle?

So far, so not good.

By all reports, when WVU hosted Baylor in the first Big 12 game at Mountaineer Field everything went well. There were no apparent incidents or reports of misconduct.

Well, except for a street fire following the game that destroyed three innocent vehicles and damaged a house.

Otherwise, Clements and Luck must have been pleased and deservedly so.

But, then, the Mountaineers defeated Texas, 48-45, last Saturday night at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, and all hellfire broke loose in Morgantown, W.Va.

According to news accounts, approximately 1,000 people took to the streets in the student-dominated Sunnyside area and a reported 41 fires had to be extinguished.

About 50 police officers wearing riot gear and carrying crowd control batons were called out. Although they reportedly were pelted by bottles, rocks and other objects, no serious injuries were sustained.

Five people were arrested for malicious burning. Another 10 were arrested on charges ranging from battery on a police officer to resisting arrest.

This sort of behavior couched as a celebration was precisely what WVU's administration feared. The leaders were holding their collective breath hoping against hope it wouldn't happen again.

So, when Clements exhaled it wasn't pleasant.

"I am angry and I am frustrated at the behavior of some of our students and others after the game," he said. "We cannot and will not tolerate it."

Clements and Luck are putting out fires, figuratively and literally. Now, it's merely a matter of patience.

Any veteran fireman knows that.

Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827, or email him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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