West Virginia’s Image Damaged

Thanks to the West Virginia University football team’s success in the Big 12 Conference, a national spotlight shines on WVU – and our state as a whole – more brightly than has been the situation for many years, except in times of tragedy. Some of what people from other states see when they look at us is far from flattering.

Rowdiness on Morgantown streets after WVU football games, whether at home or away, has become something of a plague. It struck again last weekend, after the Mountaineer football team beat Texas.

More than 40 fires were set in the streets of Morgantown that night. A full-fledged riot involving hundreds of people, most apparently WVU students, broke out. Several police officers were hurt when bottles, rocks and other objects were thrown at them. A substantial amount of damage was done to private property, including some owned by WVU students.

It is one thing to engage in a boisterous celebration. It is quite another to go on a spree of destruction and violence.

WVU and Morgantown officials are attempting to identify those involved in last weekend’s rioting. Arrests will be made and, if convictions are returned, WVU can be expected to expel any students involved in criminal activities.

The authorities are using a relatively new weapon against hooliganism, it was reported this week. They are using Internet social networks such as Facebook to collect evidence, including photographs, from scenes of street violence. In some cases, pictures may have been posted by misguided students proud of their misbehavior. But some evidence also may come from WVU students and others who, disgusted by the violence, use cellular telephone cameras to help out the police.

Good. This has to end. Again, people from throughout the world see scenes of violence at WVU because of our football team’s excellence. Business people considering new plants and stores here may be turned away by reports of couch burning and attacks on police. Officials of government and philanthropic institutions with grant money to hand out may decide it shouldn’t go to a university where part of the student body is out of control.

The list of consequences of WVU’s appearance on a national stage – potentially in the role of villain – goes on and on.

WVU’s football team plays at Texas Tech this weekend. No doubt some of those responsible for last Saturday’s violence are ready for an encore. Morgantown police and WVU officials should bring the curtain down on them.

Potential out-of-state friends of West Virginia should see us at our best, not our worst.