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NCAA Football: Baylor at West Virginia

The crowd at WVU home games this season has been limited to family members, but up to 15,000 fans will be allowed to watch Saturday’s game against Kansas.

There are two words Neal Brown would like to say to West Virginia University fans this week.

Welcome back.

To say WVU’s second-year coach has missed having fans in Mountaineer Field for WVU’s two home games against Eastern Kentucky and Baylor would be a massive understatement.

That’s why Brown is so happy WVU will allow fans to attend the Mountaineers’ game against Kansas at noon Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium.

There won’t be a huge crowd in the 60,000-seat stadium. The limit is 25 percent capacity, which means attendance will be capped at about 15,000 fans.

But that’s still 14,000 more fans than the Mountaineers have played in front of during each of the previous two home games.

“It’s not ideal,” said Brown, referring to allowing only friends and family members to attend the EKU and Baylor contests. “The way we approach it is nobody is watching practice every day and we still have to compete at a high level. That’s the way we treat the game. But it’s not ideal.”

Far from it.

It’s very odd to watch a game at Mountaineer Field with only a few hundred fans sprinkled in the west stands.

“It’s just awkward,” said Brown. “It’s just different. We played our first game with just family [members] here, and it was just different. I don’t think the competition on the field is any different. I don’t think guys compete any less hard. The atmosphere is not here.

“Some of the things that make college football great ... the band, the smell of tail-gating, the passion from the fans. We do a ‘Man Trip’ here walking in the stadium. It’s usually lined and you can feel that energy. I think that’s the part that people miss.

“I hate it for our fan base. We have a passionate fan base here. Some of our fans’ greatest memories are being right here in Mountaineer Field. I just feel for our true fans that can’t come to games right now.”

It’s like something has been missing from the Eastern Kentucky and Baylor games.

“There is something missing,” said Brown pointedly. “But it’s better than the alternative, which is not playing at all. That’s what I tell to our fans.”

It’s a “what hath COVID wrought?” scenario, which forces college football programs such as WVU to make the best of a bad situation.

What really underscored the lack of fans in Mountaineer Field, however, was WVU’s 27-13 loss to Oklahoma State in Boone Pickens Stadium at Stillwater, Oklahoma.

There were 14,672 fans in the stands.

“At Oklahoma State, it’s bowled in pretty good,” said Brown. “And the sound stays in that bowl. At times, it felt like a college football game. It really did.

“You could still yell out to your kids on the field, which is not a normal situation. Definitely not there when you have a full fan base. But I thought the fans that were there, they were still beating on the boards and that kind of stuff. They got loud when it was appropriate.”

That’s what college football is supposed to sound like.

Instead, it has been the sounds of silence.

Until Saturday.

That’s when college football — real, honest-to-goodness college football — will return to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Neal Brown can’t wait.