WVU says 'Howdy, Big 12!'
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The Big 12 Conference is already giving West Virginians a big howdy.
Earlier this week, that was by way of a banner flying above Morgantown: "Big 12 loves WVU" read the message trailing an airplane that flew above the city as students settled in for the fall.
Then there are the Big 12 T-shirts, the Big 12 travel guides and even the Big 12 window signs at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant - all taking note of the new relationship between West Virginia University and the traditionally southwestern athletics conference.
The Mountaineers have their first Big 12 home football game Sept. 29 against Baylor.
The excitement already has hit town.
Melanie Carroll, a server at the Texas Roadhouse along Monongahela Boulevard, has adorned the steakhouse's front windows with a big chalk drawing of a Flying WV overlaid with the Roman numerals "XII." She wrote "Big 12" along the bottom.
She drew an armadillo on another window. It is dressed in a WVU football uniform with a football tucked under its arm.
Down the road a bit, a yard sign at the Mountaineer Corner memorabilia shop advertises "Big 12 gear."
The store carries all manner of WVU merchandise, from clocks to golf club covers, but currently has only T-shirts and hats bearing the Big 12 logo.
Mac Brannum, the store's manager, keeps a list of customers' phone numbers under the counter, to call when new gear arrives.
The Book Exchange on High Street downtown has a few more Big 12 items. In addition to the several designs of T-shirts, including the annual Nike fan shirt, the store carries a few different WVU hats emblazoned with the Big 12 logo.
Customers also can purchase a pack of 10 pennants, one for each of the Big 12 schools. Yes, despite its name the conference has only 10 members.
"For bar owners, or for somebody's man cave," store manager Chris Belt said of the pennants.
The Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a Big 12-themed website in May aimed at both WVU supporters and visiting fans planning a stay here.
The site offers information on Morgantown and nearby cities, driving directions, airports, car rentals and taxis. For WVU fans, the site features links to other Big 12 school websites and their local convention and visitors bureaus.
The Morgantown bureau also recently purchased a recreational vehicle, wrapped with ads about the city.
"It's basically a mobile information center on wheels," said Cindy Coffindaffer, the bureau's director of marketing. "Visitors walking through will be able to stop by, ask questions, get maps and local information."
The RV will be at every home game except WVU's Oct. 20 bout with Kansas State University. The bureau already had committed to attending Bridge Day in Fayetteville.
West Virginia University plans to greet visiting fans in several ways.
University spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said the school is running ads in local newspapers welcoming visitors from other Big 12 schools, and also plans to run advertisements in local papers when WVU travels out of state.
"Just to say we're happy to be a member of the Big 12," she said.
The university also has rented space on several billboards downtown and has a banner at the Morgantown airport to welcome visitors who arrive by plane.
WVU also will rev up its "blue and gold ambassador" program. Volunteers roam tailgate lots and buses on game weekends, welcoming out-of-state visitors to Morgantown.
Next week, New South Media will release a travel guide for all Big 12 schools featuring information about each school's hometown, local attractions, parking and dining information and a guide to each team's traditions.
The company, which produces WV Living and WV Weddings magazines, has compiled a 96-page guide to the conference, including three pages for each of the Big 12 schools. It will be sold on newsstands in all Big 12 states, as well as in stores from Florida to Washington, D.C.
Nikki Bowman, owner of New South Media and editor of the magazines, said she believes it's the first publication to combine sports and travel.
"It could really be the go-to guide. If you're traveling to a game, this is what you need to know," she said.
Several universities, including WVU and Texas Christian University, have purchased copies of the magazine to send to season ticket holders. Area hotels and visitors centers also will carry the publication.
The travel guide will go on sale to the general public next Thursday, Aug. 30. In mid-September, the magazine will debut as an app for iPads, Android-based tablets and the Amazon Kindle.
Bowman said the magazine, New South's first publication aimed at a national audience, will help other Big 12 fans learn more about the Mountain State.
"Most people don't know anything about us. This was a great op for us to put West Virginia's best face forward," she said.