Thursday was a terrific day in Wheeling.
We had our first “Off the Record” show, courtesy of Wheelhouse Creative and Generations. Our very special guest was WVU athletic director Shane Lyons – who was a big hit.
Lyons packed Generations. And he gave us much insight — from killing rumors the football stadium was moving (“No,” he said flatly) to taking us through the departure of Dana Holgorsen and the hiring process of Neal Brown. (Brown, by the way, made a special appearance that night via phone.)
Anyway, while Thursday was a special day in Wheeling because of Lyons, Friday was a very special day in Morgantown because of the AD.
The reason: Lyons announced WVU and Alabama will play a home-and-home football series beginning in 2026.
As you may have read, the first game will be played in Morgantown on Sept. 5, 2026, and the second game will be played in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 4, 2027.
The first thing that came to mind was Lyons should hit one of our state’s casinos now. See, he’s on quite a roll.
First, the AD made quite a popular call in hiring Brown. Now, he’s secured a home-and-home with the nation’s premier football power.
Both moves are much-needed jolts to the program in a way discussed here just last week: ticket sales.
As we covered last week, WVU looked on very shaky ground heading into the 2019 football season.
Last season, with sky-high preseason expectations, the final season ticket sales number was 25,629 — DOWN from the previous 26,542. As I wrote, that was hard to comprehend considering WVU was picked to finish second to Oklahoma in the preseason Big 12 media poll. The Mountaineers also boasted QB Will Grier as a Heisman Trophy contender. They had David Sills, Gary Jennings, David Long, etc.
It illustrated the national downward trend in season ticket sales among most elite conferences and schools.
And now, while the NCAA has yet to release official attendance numbers for 2018, 247 Sports has reported the downward spiral continued.
In 2017, the home average across the nation was at 42,108. That was a drop of 962 per game. (Overall, WVU averaged 55,946 for its six homes games that year. Last season, the average rose to 58,158.) Neutral-game attendance was 57,396 that year, a drop of 4,727. Bowl game attendance was at 40,506, a drop of 1,212. Among conferences, the Big 12 average of 56,852 was third to the Southeastern Conference (75,074) and Big Ten (66,227). The Big 12’s drop was 679 fans.
According to College Football News, WVU has been No. 35 in attendance from 2013 to 2017, averaging 55,590.
Lyons’ Friday bombshell, however, should throw a serious aberration into the Mountaineers’ numbers come 2026.
The school has the ability to sell 39,000 regular-season ticket packages in the current stadium configuration (60,000 capacity). Since 2004, the high has been the 38,191 sold for the 2008 season.
Will that 2004 season ticket record number be threatened in 2026?
You bet – especially if the Brown experiment is a hit.
Folks – including those in Alabama — will buy season ticket packages just for the one ticket.
Now, could the current picture regarding the two teams change by 2026? Of course. There’s a question of whether legend Nick Saban will still be coaching Alabama when the Crimson Tide visits Morgantown. Yes, Saban’s birthplace is less than 20 minutes from Morgantown, but the man will be 74.
Also, will the Crimson Tide still be on top of the college football world? Will WVU be strong? Will Brown still be in place?
All unknowns, of course.
But it will still be Alabama. It will still be the Crimson Tide. And, as writer Ronald Evans wrote two days ago on his Fansided “Bama Hammer,” Alabama fans “are already making plans for Morgantown.”
“It will become one of the hardest regular season tickets to score ever for Tide fans,” he wrote.
Which translates into ticket sales for WVU’s Lyons, associate AD Matt Wells, etc.
And that translates into many, many smiles within the Mountaineer athletic department.
EDITOR’S NOTES: This week’s “Off the Record” guest is former WVU hoops standout Nate Adrian. The show will begin Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at Generations… We also invite all to look around our Wheelhouse Creative website for services offered. Those interested are asked to call our office at 16 Cypress Ave., Wheeling, at 304-905-6005.