Each day West Virginia may be transforming from a football school to a basketball school. That may be a matter of opinion, but it’s becoming a fair question.
This time of year is kind of easy to judge fanbases based on attendance at football bowl games. All signs point to this year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl being a low turnout because of the day, time and lack of allure. West Virginia fans are usually known as good travelers when supporting their team but, unfortunately, that won’t be the case this season.
West Virginia used to travel for more away games, too. But that hasn’t been the case as much since joining the Big 12 Conference. With Iowa State being the closest conference game, it is hard for fans to travel by plane or a long car ride. In the days of the Big East, West Virginia fans showed up in full force for fairly close away games against Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and, of course, Pitt.
Fans of the West Virginia basketball team were blessed with an opportunity to resurrect the Backyard Brawl earlier this month. The easy 75-mile trip enticed many West Virginia fans to head to the Petersen Events Center and cheer loudly for the visiting Mountaineers. West Virginia fans easily made up at least half of the more than 7,000 fans in attendance.
It was noticed by head coach Bob Huggins, the players on both teams and even former players who fondly remember the old days of the Backyard Brawl.
If West Virginia was afforded more opportunities like this, there would be large groups in other opposing arenas. The Mountaineers helped pack Virginia’s basketball arena last December with both ranked teams taking the court. Now, the Cavaliers aren’t typically a big rival of the Mountaineers, but the close proximity allowed many West Virginia fans in the southern part of the state the opportunity to see their team play on the road. The door was open and many took advantage of that.
Maybe the motive to travel more is because of how well the WVU basketball team has been playing recently. Consistently rated in the top 15 and just seven years removed from a Final Four appearance, the West Virginia basketball team under Huggins is always competitive and exciting to watch. With the West Virginia football team, it seems like a sense of apathy has set in.
There is little to no motivation to travel to an away game. The WVU football team opened up against Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C. this past season and many Mountaineers made the trip. Like the recent basketball game against Pitt, it was great to revitalize an old rivalry, so many fans took advantage of that opportunity. Next season, West Virginia will play Tennessee in North Carolina, so that too is the best opportunity to see an away game.
If there were more opportunities in both football and basketball to play nearby, many fans would take advantage of that chance. Until then, West Virginia fans will follow the winner and right now that is the WVU basketball team moreso than the football team.