MORGANTOWN – When it was announced last Sunday afternoon that ESPN’s College GameDay show would be coming to West Virginia University to preview the No. 7 TCU vs. No. 20 WVU football game, the entire atmosphere on campus changed.
Immediately students reacted, wanting to know a multitude of things that don’t go through most heads during the course of a normal week at WVU.
Who’s going to be the guest picker? What time do I need to get in line to get a good spot for the show? Can WVU beat TCU? What’s going to happen if the Mountaineers do beat the Horned Frogs? Who is Lee Corso going to pick?
The biggest reaction made by students, however, was coined as none other than Tent City.
What started as a few students who decided immediately following the announcement of GameDay’s location to pitch a tent on the plaza behind WVU’s Mountainlair grew extensively into hundreds of other Mountaineer students joining in on the fun.
Two hundred and thirty-one tents were set up, which, as proclaimed mayor of Tent City Tommy Skinner, a senior finance and accounting major from West Grove, Pennsylvania, and a member of the first tent set up, said was a lot bigger than what he expected.
“We didn’t think that it was going to be this big, but I think everybody here is having a good time,” Skinner said. “We’re glad to see it happen this way. It really has been a week of getting to know different people. Everyone whose tent is around you, we’ve become a lot closer with those guys and girls, and it really has been good.”
Asked if GameDay was his only motive of pitching his tent, Skinner said, “No, it’s more than just GameDay. It was a joint thing between GameDay and our football team. We wanted to show our boys our support, and I think that’s what everybody’s out here to do. We’ve rallied together for that. We have a good team, and we want the world to see that we support them. They’ve been really happy about it and we have, too.”
Skinner and three friends bought their tent immediately after the announcement that GameDay was coming to Morgantown and were set up by 5 p.m.
This tent community was mainly student run, and the students did a little bit of everything in Tent City.
A football could be seen being thrown throughout most of the whole week, some days until the wee hours of the next morning. Many students brought their TVs and gaming stations along with their tents. A few lucky students even faced off against ESPN’s David Pollack in a game of Mario Kart on Friday afternoon. Others brought speakers for music.
A putting green and a foosball table were also seen among other things, including a large corn hole “arena” that was set up Friday afternoon.
After a long week, the big day – Saturday, game day – finally arrived.
Some students didn’t sleep at all; others took a quick nap during the night and were at the GameDay set as early as 4 and 5 a.m. The more the “Countdown to GameDay” clock ticked down, the more students arrived, trying to find the best place possible to stand and catch a camera’s attention.
Before going on the air, Chris Fowler, host of GameDay, quieted the large crowd momentarily, thanking the Mountaineer fan base and university for the great welcome and hospitality, as well as saying that Tent City isn’t something they see every week.
“To see this army of tent people that have been here since Sunday – that’s not the norm, that’s not what we see every week,” Fowler said during a media event inside the Mountainlair on Friday. “It’s very flattering; it’s more of a comment, I think, on what they think about their (football) program and wanting to put it in a positive light. We’ll be happy to piggy back off of their enthusiasm.”
The show aired live from 9 a.m. to noon and was filled with constant looks at the large crowd, which kept the excitement alive from beginning to end. Cables hung above the fans allowing a camera to pan over everyone in attendance, giving all a chance to be seen on TV.
Guest picker Brad Paisley, a Glen Dale native, kept things very loose when he got on stage, alluding to a certain cheer by WVU fans about one of their longtime rivals, expressing his displeasure about the departure of a former coach, and, as expected, picking the Mountaineers to win the game.
Even though on Friday Skinner said that the rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the Tent City people, Corso’s GameDay pick and the outcome of the game did.
Corso, making his 250th GameDay head gear selection, led the crowd to believe he was picking the Mountaineers to win the game as he began to sing Country Roads. However, he quickly changed his tune and put on the Horned Frog head, selecting TCU to win the game.
The former football coach also picked against the Mountaineers on GameDay in 2011 when they played LSU.
In both instances, he was correct.
Saturday, in front of a sold out Milan Puskar Stadium crowd, the WVU offense stalled in the fourth quarter, while TCU was able to pull within two points and kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.