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Holgorsen seeks to shake up scheduling

MORGANTOWN - Only twice since 1997 has the West Virginia University football team sold more season ticket packages than in the campaign leading up to the 2012 season.

Matt Wells, assistant athletic director of marketing and sales, said the Mountaineers sold about 600 Monday, the first day the public could buy packages.

The total sits at around 36,400, meaning fewer than 2,000 remain. WVU only sold more in the previous 16 years in 2007 (38,037) and 2008 (38,191), than when the Mountaineers debuted the club seats above the weight room in the south end zone and maxed out season ticket sales.

"We'll wait until mid-July to evaluate where things are at with season-ticket sales and how things are progressing with mini-packages and single-game tickets," Wells said of the floating deadline for season tickets. "Then we'll see what route we need to go."

Whatever direction it takes, it's evident WVU's first season in the Big 12 and a home schedule that features Oklahoma for the first time as well as Baylor, Texas Christian University, Kansas and Kansas State in conference play and Marshall and Maryland in non-conference action has stimulated sales.

It comes with a cost, though. No longer will the Mountaineers entertain an historic rival like Pitt or a long-term foe like Syracuse or even a newer nemesis like Louisville or South Florida every other year.  

Truth be told, the lineup of conference games will be so challenging every year and feature more elite opposition than the Big East did that the profile of some of those non-conference opponents might dip, too.

Coach Dana Holgorsen would like to do his people a favor and stimulate the way patrons think about the non-conference schedule.

"Things are about to change in a major way," he said. "You've got nine Big 12 games and that leaves three non-conference games. To me, I'd like those three games to be as regional as possible."

The season-opening game with Alabama in the Georgia Dome in 2014 would be a rare exception. Holgorsen, who doesn't do much with scheduling apart from ask and answer questions, was in favor of playing on the big stage, but marquee opponents might not be as common.

For Holgorsen, it would take but a phone call to set up a series with Washington State in the Pac-12 and Holgorsen's longtime boss, Mike Leach.  Holgorsen visited Texas A&M earlier in the spring to reconnect with another old boss. Kevin Sumlin is in his first year coaching the Aggies after coaching the Houston Cougars for four years, the first two with Holgorsen. They could have talked scheduling at any moment.

Don't count on either happening.

"I don't see a reason to do it," Holgorsen said. "There are too many regional games that would be appealing to our fans."

WVU has followed a pattern when putting together its non-conference schedule in recent years.

It will be tweaked just a little for life in the Big 12. The Mountaineers will continue to schedule a Football Championship Subdivision team for a home game, unless a lucrative opportunity arises for a game like September's contest against FCS James Madison at FedEx Field.

When the Mountaineers and the Crimson Tide agreed to play and WVU needed to make room for Alabama, FCS Towson was spared while East Carolina was bumped.

"The one I-AA (FBS) game is kind of standard for everybody now, so that leaves us two games every year," Holgorsen said.

In years with five Big 12 home games, plus the one FCS date, WVU will try to play one of the two remaining games at home, but might also play both away from home in either road or neutral-site games. When the Mountaineers have four Big 12 home games, as well as the FCS game, they'll try to play the two remaining games at home, but may again settle for one.

In both instances, the Mountaineers realize seven home games may no longer be attainable. Holgorsen wants the non-conference home games to mean more, and would prefer the road or neutral-site games be close.

He said he'd rather schedule short series, like home-and-home deals, with local or familiar opponents.

"Pitt would be tremendous. Maryland, which is basically on our schedule every year, would be tremendous," Holgorsen said. "What's wrong with playing a Virginia Tech or Virginia or Penn State? Or Rutgers? That rivalry's pretty good.

"There are so many games right around here that make sense for our fans and we've taken a lot from our fans. Now, it's for a really good reason, but why not try to play as many games as we possibly can that are close to them?"

Missing from that list? Marshall. Holgorsen said it was an inadvertent omission, but added that the Thundering Herd, or any long-term opponents, doesn't necessarily fit with what he has in mind.

"It goes back to what I said as far as there being so many regional rivalries that have existed that we've taken from our fan base," he said. "I'd be in favor of playing them sometime, but you can't play them five years in a row. You could play them maybe once every decade."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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