There’s a fine line between celebrating and bragging.
West Virginia University earned the right to celebrate the remarkable 70-33 victory over Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. It was an historic performance, one that provided WVU with an amazing amount of positive publicity.
But WVU has made a poor decision to extend the celebration to include two billboards along interstate highways outside of Morgantown. The billboards have a giant “70” on them (the “0" is an orange), the text “It’s not just our speed limit” and the 70-33 score.
WVU apparently picked up the idea from a Photoshopped speed limit sign that went viral immediately after the bowl game.
University spokeswoman Becky Lofstead told me the goal of the billboards, from a marketing standpoint, was to “capitalize on a great, high-profile victory by our team, and to celebrate the excitement and pride all around the victories the University has every day, whether it be on the field or off.”
The billboards are a bad idea for several reasons:
First, it’s in poor taste for the University to capitalize on Clemson’s suffering. WVU officials say that the message is not meant to be mean-spirited, and I believe them, but that doesn’t change how it can be perceived.
Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. What if Clemson had scored 70 points on West Virginia and then put up the exact same billboard along I-85? West Virginia fans, including yours truly, would have complained loudly about it.
Second, the outcome of the Orange Bowl was so stunning that it speaks for itself. Mountaineer fans are still buzzing about the game, and will be for years. The Photoshopped sign was an Internet hit. There’s no need for WVU to make a statement that can be interpreted as formal gloating.
Third, it’s beneath the University. A story in the Morgantown Dominion Post newspaper about the billboard began with this line: “WVU is rubbing a little pulp in the wound.”
That’s not how West Virginia University needs to be perceived. WVU already has a huge image problem because of fan behavior. WVU works hard to repair that image. The billboard doesn’t help. It feels like a cheap shot.
Winston Churchill famously said, “In war: resolution. In defeat: defiance. In victory: magnanimity. In peace: goodwill.”
Granted, the British Prime Minister was talking about more serious matters, but in sports we frequently use battle analogies. In the case of the billboards, humility is a virtue that would benefit WVU.