Burning couches to celebrate a momentous sports victory is funny in theory. That’s why West Virginia University fans are still laughing at the Sprint commercial several years ago that poked fun at the Mountaineers’ couch-burning tradition.
But in reality, couch-burning is no joke. It is riotous behavior that incites troublemakers and burdens the city governments who have to deploy police and safety personnel to control the fans. Morgantown, the home of WVU, is so fed up with the misbehaving students in the city that it may slap a financial penalty on them to help cover the costs of constant post-game parties.
Speaking with a reporter hours after hundreds of revelers set fires and attacked police officers, [Mayor Jim] Manilla said efforts to tone down the post-game party atmosphere have failed. “Whatever good has been done in the past has been all wiped out,” he said. “We’re getting close to an injury or loss of life.”
… Manilla said he has been thinking about bringing the idea of a “student impact fee” to Morgantown City Council. If a $20 fee is assessed for each WVU student each semester, he said enough money would be raised to pay for extra public employees. With an enrollment of nearly 30,000, that would equal about $1.2 million in revenue for the city annually.
The mayor aired the idea after WVU defeated Texas 48-45 and students literally set the streets of the city on fire in celebration. Worse, they threw rocks and bottles at police trying to keep the peace and picked fights with others in the streets. Similar troubles arose after WVU defeated Baylor 70-63.
I witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand as a WVU student and reporter for the local Dominion Post. WVU defeated Penn State 51-30 that year in a rare victory over Joe Paterno’s team. The victory was so sweet that students charged the field with 49 seconds left, and those last seconds of play had to be cancelled — an embarrassing display of unsportsmanlike conduct that was follow by more unruly behavior in the streets that night.
At that same time, WVU students were complaining of unfair, albeit unrelated, treatment at the hands of city officials. The confluence of events inspired me to write an op-ed that still seems relevant 14 years later as unruly Mountaineers are causing trouble in Morgantown. Here is what I wrote:
Respect. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines that word as “to consider worthy of high regard.”
In the past few weeks, West Virginia University students have been crying out for respect from Morgantown city officials who have eliminated most free parking on the downtown campus and who are threatening to eliminate even more free parking on the Evansdale campus.
The basis of the students’ argument is that they are worthy of the same consideration non-student residents of Morgantown receive.
Some of these are the same irresponsible students who stampeded onto Mountaineer Field on Saturday with 49 seconds remaining in the West Virginia-Penn State football game and hurled insulting names at Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and his battle-worn Nittany Lions.
I don’t know about any of you, but when I was growing up, my parents always told me, “If you want to be treated like an adult, act like one.” The full force of that statement failed to hit home until that embarrassing display of childishness by a handful of WVU students Saturday.
The football team earned the national respect it has deserved, but the sad thing is that is not what viewers all over the nation will remember about the game.
People will remember the smoke bomb that was thrown onto the field with about one minute remaining. People will remember the mob of students swarming onto the field and toppling the goal post with 49 seconds left. People will remember the anger and disgust on Joe Paterno’s face as he lashed out at a state police officer for not controlling the rambunctious crowd.
Paterno had every right to be angry, but he may have taken out his frustration on the wrong people.
It’s possible the university did not do everything in its power to prevent that ugly scene, especially considering a similar incident occurred in 1984, when the Mountaineers broke a long losing streak against the Nittany Lions with a 17-14 victory.
But how do 20-30 state police officers contain an elated and high-spirited crowd of thousands of students? Mickey Furfari, executive sports editor of the Dominion Post, said it probably would have taken the National Guard to clear the field that day.
Good call. In fact, some students at the anticipated Sunnyside celebration [after the game] thought it might have been a good idea to have the National Guard there to have prevented the ugly incident. The sad thing is, it was not a majority — or even a fair representation — of the students who led the charge.
Most students and adults remained in their seats and booed, trying desperately to separate themselves from the unruly actions of their counterparts. “The Pride of West Virginia,” the Mountaineers marching band, led cheers against fellow students, and band officials tried their best to remove the outlaws.
Being a member of the student body, I cannot blame them for the shamefaced [response]. I spent a year in Florida trying to convince my co-workers that West Virginians are not hicks and that WVU is an excellent example of a higher education institution. I still believe that, but how can I ever defend my stance after Saturday’s outrageous display?
You see, Floridians don’t live in West Virginia. Floridians don’t know how good the people in West Virginia really are. All they know is what they saw on national television — that blatant disregard for authority.
The Mountaineers had a taste of the sweetest victory in WVU’s history. But the taste did not linger long. During the end-of-game confusion, a CBS sportscaster asked WVU coach Don Nehlen about the significance of the victory for the team.
Nehlen could not answer. He was too preoccupied with the rowdy fans. All he wanted was for his team to finish the game and have the opportunity to celebrate.