Photo of WVU students used in contrasting polls
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When a group of spirited West Virginia University students posed for a picture at the Final Four basketball game last year, they had no idea they would become symbols of both the best and worst of college sports fans.
The photo shows the foursome in the stands as the WVU men's basketball team faced Duke University in the team's Final Four run last year.
To match their yellow tank tops, all reading "I wanna KISS the Mountaineers," the four recreated the makeup style made famous by the legendary rock band, but with a twist: They used blue and gold paint instead of the classic black and white.
Despite WVU's failed attempt to bring down Duke, the picture has been used by multiple media outlets, including MTV's Clutch Blog, which recently held a poll that has thus far slotted Morgantown as the best college sports town in the East.
Voting for the number-one spot continues until noon March 28 with Morgantown pitted against Knoxville, Tenn.; Madison, Wis.; and Eugene, Ore.
The same photo appears in another ranking - this one reflecting a less-than-stellar assessment of WVU's student fan section.
GQ recently named Mountaineer fans as the third worst in America, surpassed only by those of the Philadelphia Eagles and the Phillies.
Erica Rogers, 24, who boasts a large blue star across her eye in the now-infamous photo, says she doesn't agree with GQ's assessment of WVU fans as nothing more than a group of "mad arsonists."
"The thing about the GQ article is a lot of these schools have really wide fan bases, and I don't know if by 'the worst' they mean by getting under other teams' skin as much as possible, because if that's what it does mean then, to me, that's the best kind of fans.
"You're supposed to distract the other team and support your own, so I kind of take that with a grain of salt," Rogers said.
The post accompanying the GQ ranking mentions the history of fires that ignite along the streets of Morgantown after big wins.
While WVU officials have tried to douse that tradition, Morgantown Fire Capt. Ken Tennant said 168 street fires were set in 2010. Of that number, 75 were in dumpsters.
The danger of being reprimanded by both the city of Morgantown and the university is enough reason not to engage in any sort of pyromania for Carol Ann Funkhouser, the 24-year-old graduate student pictured next to Rogers with make-up inspired by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.
"I've been going to school here for six years, and I haven't set anything on fire because the school is really strict about that; you can be expelled," Funkhouser said.
The penalty for setting a fire in the streets of Morgantown is punishable by a $1,000 fine and often restitution for the cost of services provided by the fire department under the provisions of a local malicious burning ordinance, Tennant said.
Any student caught setting a fire also must attend an administrative hearing before WVU's Office of Student Conduct. Punishments can include expulsion, suspension or probation, Tennant said.
Even Clutch Blog's favorable assessment mentions the couches that have smoldered in the streets of Morgantown streets over the years.
But Rogers and Funkhouser say the burnings are part of WVU's past and have not hindered their futures.
They both are about to graduate with master's degrees in public administration.
Another student in the photo, Maggie Smith-Shimer, went on a medical school trip to the Dominican Republic. The lone male member of the group, B. Jay Hatfield, aspired to be the Mountaineer mascot at one time.
Rogers was philosophical about the recent rankings and the incidents that led to them.
"We can't deny that it's something that we've done, but the main thing to focus on is that we're known for a lot of other good things, too, and have a lot of other great assets at the university, but that's just part of our identity," she said.