The Great Rivalry Debate - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

The Great Rivalry Debate


Fans have been counting down to September 1 now since the morning after the Orange Bowl. That, of course, is the day that West Virginia and Marshall will meet in Morgantown for the season opener.

WVU fans aren't counting down because it's a rivalry game with Marshall, though. More than anything, this is the season opener, and the Mountaineers happen to be playing the only other Division I team in the state.

For the most part, fans in Huntington see it differently. Playing against a school that lies within the same state borders means that this is a natural rivalry, and that it should be played every year.

That's a valid argument.

On the other side of the spectrum, West Virginia fans often wonder aloud whether this really constitutes as a rivalry. In part because, despite the proximity, there's not all that much history between these two teams. The series started in 1911, but there have been just eleven games played overall. WVU has played more games against teams like Fordham and Richmond in its history than Marshall.

Granted, those games were played many years ago, but they were played nonetheless.

The other, and bigger, factor that keeps this from being a true heated rivalry is that in those eleven games, West Virginia has won eleven. The Mountaineers have never lost. Of course, it's been close at times. Just two years ago, the Thundering Herd held a lead into the fourth quarter before allowing a late, 15-point Mountaineer comeback, which eventually ended with Marshall missing a potential tying field goal in overtime.

As close as some of the games have been, though, Marshall has never scored a win against West Virginia. There is still the possibility of an upset this season, but that has yet to happen in the series, and in many fans' eyes, that keeps this from reaching true rivalry status.

That, too, is a valid argument.

The problem is that it's a legitimate debate. It's not like other rivalries, where it is nationally recognized as a fierce rivalry. Instead, believers in its relevancy have to defend its status.

In 2006, this game was given the moniker "Friends of Coal Bowl," and was renewed in an attempt to spark some sort of fire between the schools and their respective fans.

There's no question that a game against Marshall means more than one against Western Michigan or Bowling Green, with all due respect to those schools. Having played every year for the past six seasons (2012 being the seventh), familiarity itself has caused some friction, at least within the fan bases.

Yet even the bickering that comes with every rivalry is a little different for this one. It is rarely about the most recent game or how the teams look coming into the next season. Instead, it goes right back to whether or not the two schools even need to play each other.

Does West Virginia want to play a team each year that it's supposed to beat? If the Mountaineers win, it's what they were supposed to do. But if you lose a game like this, it can derail an entire season- and it's played in week one. This is a huge game for Marshall, and WVU can expect a fight.

From the Marshall side of things, is it really necessary to play a team that apparently doesn't have any interest in resuming the series?

As of now, it looks as though they've decided that they, in fact, do not need each other. September 1 will mark the last Friends of Coal Bowl for the foreseeable future.

It appeared for awhile that this would be the end of the road for the game, but once West Virginia announced that it would become a member of the Big 12, it lost two non-conference games per year, and it left even less room for Marshall.

In a way, it's really a shame. It would be great for this state if some real animosity could form a legitimate rivalry between Marshall and West Virginia, but as we've learned over the past six years, it's not as easy to get that started as it may sound.

So, in less than two weeks, these two schools will go their separate ways and find other teams to fill the void that will remain.

Whether or not it means the end of a rivalry? Well, the debate, at least, will rage on.


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