Traffic Plans

The drive to the WVU Coliseum on a basketball game day this season is not quite the same as it has been during the previous 35 years that the building has stood on the Evansdale Campus of West Virginia University.

You can still tune your radio to WAJR on your way to the game and get the latest Mountaineer information, you will still see the WVU police standing at the intersections and it is very likely that if you listen close enough you will catch a few derogatory comments directed at West Virginia's rivals to the north, the Pitt Panthers. What has changed is the time it takes to get to the Coliseum.

If it took you four hours to get from your living room to your seat in the mushroom shaped arena a couple of years ago, you probably now want to allow five. And if it is just a mile drive from your home in Morgantown to the home of the Mountaineers, you may want to consider leaving a half-hour before your desired arrival time.

Your long wait sitting behind a blue van reading the same "My Child Is An Honor Student" sticker over and over again for what seems like hours is not caused by one of the many ill-conceived road repair projects that often leave Mountain State natives moving at a snail's pace, but rather by the popularity of Mountaineer basketball.

Last season's run to the Elite Eight and the 8-0 conference start this season has increased cases of Mountaineer Fever in the hills of West Virginia and around the country faster than a flu epidemic through an elementary classroom in January. Every sports fan wants to get his or her chance to see the Mountaineers, and the standstill traffic around the Coliseum which now begins two or three hours before tipoff is an obvious indication.

"Driving over here you see all the traffic and cars parked all the way down Beechurst (Avenue)," said WVU senior guard Patrick Beilein, who never imagined the atmosphere he has seen in Morgantown this season when he was heading to the Robins Center in Richmond to watch his father's teams play just five short years ago, or even four years ago when he first set foot on the WVU campus. "It is awesome. That is why you want to play college basketball. I think it makes it even more special the way we started from scratch and worked our way up."

Beilein remembers driving to weeknight games early in his career when the only traffic holdups were caused by accidents involving fans trying to get out of town as soon as possible.

"We would have to be here an hour before the game, and I would leave ten minutes early," remembered the Mountaineer sixth-man, who is now WVU's all-time leading three-point shooter. "There was no traffic, and you could just drive right up. Now we have to leave about 45 minutes early just to get here on time."

But once he finally does make his way through the parking lot now named Jerry West Boulevard and then down Gale Catlett Drive, Beilein quickly remembers why he puts himself through the torture of battling traffic usually reserved for the streets of Atlanta of New York.

"You definitely have more emotion and are more excited," said Beilein, just after his squad moved to 7-0 in the Big East with a win over Notre Dame last Wednesday. "Mike (Gansey) and I were talking driving (to the game), thinking back to the last time we played Notre Dame at home and there were probably 7,000 people there. Now it is sold out on a Wednesday night. You just want to go out and win for those fans that come out to support you."

"I think that it is great considering the fact that we had six or seven thousand fans for Big East games our freshman year," agreed senior center Kevin Pittsnogle. "Now we have sellout crowds for the rest of the year. That is great for us. We love having all of the atmosphere, and all of that adrenaline helps us a lot."

For the man at the helm of the Mountaineers, head coach John Beilein, it is just what he pictured when he decided to take over the reins of the program, which was once a national power on the level of a Duke or North Carolina, prior to the 2002-03 season.

"It is what it should be for a program that is as storied as this one," said the former Richmond mentor. "I just think it is terrific, and I am sure the concession people are happy, the guys in the store are happy and it certainly helps us to have that type of crowd."

So when you are sitting in the same spot, reading the same license plate and looking into the same rear window that you have been viewing for the last 30 minutes on your way to the Connecticut game on Feb. 18 or the Louisville contest on Feb. 25, just remember the words of Patrick Beilein, who assured, "The traffic is well worth it."

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