MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University students who built a tent city on the Mountainlair Plaza say they are determined to be close to the action when ESPN airs its College GameDay broadcast from Morgantown on Saturday — and are resolved to make sure the state is presented in a positive light.
No. 16 West Virginia hosts No. 2 Louisiana State in a prime time game airing on ABC.
ESPN's daylong coverage of the nation's college football games begins at 9 a.m. Mountaineer fans were camped out in dozens of tents more than a day beforehand, some since about 6 p.m. Thursday, just a few hundred yards from the stage.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said 20-year-old Emily Donathan of Charleston. "It will be a good time with friends. There won't be much sleeping, but it's the whole atmosphere: It's college. It's football. It's friends. It's awesome."
National TV exposure is good for West Virginia, she said.
"It will show people that we're not what they think we are," said Donathan, who is eager to hear "America's Got Talent" winner Landau Murphy sing the national anthem at kickoff. "This state has a lot to be proud of, and we never get any recognition for it."
Students say there's a lot of pressure — from peers and the WVU administration — to behave well.
"The majority of the people are very aware of what's going on, and if people start doing something stupid, they'll step up and stop them," said student Lisa Skandalis, 20, of Syracuse, N.Y.
Earlier this week, a student fan group called Mountaineer Maniacs offered $20 vouchers for university-licensed apparel to anyone who turned in a vulgar T-shirt. One such shirt, bearing the F-word, was shown on national television during the Sept. 4 game against Marshall.
"The image we portray to the rest of the sports world is critical," said backup Mountaineer mascot Jonathan Kimble, wearing the coonskin cap that is part of his uniform.
Kimble had hoped he wouldn't see profane shirts this weekend. But as the 23-year-old from Franklin sat outside his tent Friday morning, he watched two students walk by with shirts bearing a vulgar LSU taunt.
"It kind of takes the entire state's reputation down," said his friend Jay Hatfield, 21, of Madison.
Hatfield said students have been barraged with good-conduct messages from university officials, the student body president and the school newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum.
"There's a lot of pressure on people to behave," Hatfield said, "but whether they will or not, I don't know."
City officials have also been trying to prevent or at least scale back the size of the street fires that have come to typify WVU weekends.
For the first time since 2005, before a big game with Virginia Tech, the city conducted what it calls a furniture abatement program. Crews on Thursday hauled away three dozen dump truck loads of furniture, trash and other flammable material that could easily be dragged into the street and torched.
Police and state and city fire marshals began patrolling the historically problematic neighborhoods Thursday night.
Morgantown and WVU have been trying for years to end the long-standing tradition of burning couches and other items to celebrate an event, but there are still hundreds of fires every year.
Skandalis figures a few this weekend are unavoidable.
"I just want to wake up Sunday," she said, "and have the town still be here."
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