CHARLESTON, W.Va. - By a wide margin, state sports fans want to see Marshall and West Virginia universities keep playing the annual Friends of Coal Bowl, according to the latest results from the West Virginia Poll.
The two teams are set to face off in their final match-up for the foreseeable future this Saturday in Morgantown.
The poll found 76 percent of West Virginia sports fans want to see the Mountaineers and Thundering Herd continue playing each other in football. Only 12 percent said they didn't want to see the games continue. The remaining 12 percent weren't sure.
The West Virginia Poll, conducted for the Charleston Daily Mail by R.L. Repass & Partners, surveyed 401 likely voters between Aug. 22 and 25. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.
Among those surveyed, 71 percent said they considered themselves sports fans. Only those identifying themselves as such were asked further sports-related questions.
The poll found WVU fans make up the vast majority of state sports fans.
When asked whether they favored Marshall or WVU, 71 percent said they were primarily WVU fans, compared to 16 percent who said they were Marshall fans. The remaining 12 percent said they weren't sure.
With such a large majority saying they favored WVU, pollster Rex Repass said he was surprised to see 76 percent of those polled saying they wanted the two teams to keep playing.
Typically, it's WVU fans who advocate ending the series on online message boards and social media. They say it would allow the Mountaineers to play higher-ranked out-of-state teams.
"We've all seen and read the chat boards and comments," Repass said. "But those tend to be the shrill voices and the loud voices, but it's not necessarily representative."
Repass said the broader sampling of the poll makes it clear where public opinion lies.
"Among sports fans, there is passion for those two schools to play each other on a regular basis," he said. "Of course, athletic departments are not run by public opinion surveys, but it clearly is a high level of interest."
Those polled also had a strong opinion on how the series should play out.
The current format for the Friends of Coal Bowl, which began in 2006, was for the game to be played two consecutive years in Morgantown followed by one in Huntington. The location for this year's game was determined by which team won two of the first three games in the series.
Game locations were a sticking point when the series was being established. WVU's stadium can hold about 22,000 more people than Marshall's, and WVU officials want more games played in their stadium.
While the location was a big deal for the schedulers, that is not the case for poll respondents.
An overwhelming majority - 83 percent - said they would like to see Marshall and WVU rotate the game between Morgantown and Huntington each year.
"It's surprising that the vast majority - eight out of 10 - believe those two schools should be playing a home-and-home series," Repass said. "It's overwhelming."