There are few experiences one can have in West Virginia that can rival going to a Mountaineer football game.
60,000-plus people filing into Milan Puskar Stadium to cheer on WVU creates one of the best home atmospheres in all of college football. And hearing those 60,000 fans sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” following a win is an experience unlike any other.
The problem, however, is that a particular section of fans rarely stays at the game long enough to hear it.
By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, the sections reserved for students are usually quite a bit emptier than the start of the game.
This has become such a problem that even University officials have taken notice.
“We provide a lot of tickets for students to come, and our student athletes, our football players, are like any other students, they should expect the students to stay and support them,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said during a meeting with the DA on Sept. 5. “I don’t like it when they leave, and I think they should come early. This is a great spirited thing at our University, and we have a sold out stadium, and the fans look over and say, ‘Well gee, what happened to the students?’"
There are a few different explanations for why students might want to leave games early. First of all, the game might just not be very interesting. College football games routinely last around four hours, so if the game is not interesting fans cannot really be expected to stay.
Second, the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium have no coverage from the weather. So far this season the game-time temperatures for WVU’s two home games have been 82 and 78 degrees, respectively. Without cover, it can be hard to sit out in the hot sun for an entire game.
Finally, students may just want to get a head start on their Saturday night plans. That is not the best excuse to leave a game early, but it happens.
Students leaving football games early is not a problem that is specific to WVU. Many colleges face this same problem and try to implement measures to combat it. The University of Alabama, whose football tickets are in high demand, have started tracking whether or not students leave early and punish the ones who do.
The reason this is even a big deal to begin with is because of how much having a good home crowd means to the football team.
First-year head coach Neal Brown said before the first home game of the season how much he was looking forward to having a good home atmosphere.
“The students are going to play such a vital role for us,” Brown said in an Aug. 20 press conference. “We want to create the best home field advantage in college football, and to do that I think the students are the igniters. And so I encourage our students to show up and stay and be loud and support our guys.”
Following the team’s most recent home win over North Carolina State, Brown said the good home crowd played a big part in the victory.
“I thought the crowd was huge today,” Brown said. “They did a tremendous job, they stayed, they were loud. I thought they really were a factor on the third and fourth downs.”
WVU has had good home crowds to start the season. Both home games’ attendance numbers rank in the top 10 in the Big 12 through four weeks, but the empty seats vacated when students decide to leave early has become something of an eyesore for Mountaineer fans.