MORGANTOWN, W.Va (WV News) — Fan Day was over, as was West Virginia's third practice of the summer.
Once each summer they converge, fans and the football team, signing autographs, talking, shaking hands and taking pictures.
That's the way, in all of our minds, it should be.
But times are changing, football is changing, and when Coach Neal Brown was asked about it, he was both emotional and sentimental about the changing times and the thought that college football's popularity is eroding.
As emotional and sentimental as he is about it, as highly as he speaks about the game's virtues, in the end, he summed it up rather realistically.
"The short answer is we got to this point because of money," he said. "That's what it is. We can bitch and complain about the money, but the last time I checked, most things are like that. It's a business. The NFL is making most of its decisions on the bottom line, too ... right?"
"So, either eat or get eaten."
Conferences are devouring conferences. Boundaries expand, players jump from one school to the next the way school buses travel from one stop to the next, kids getting on at one stop, off at the next.
Coaches are the same.
They make outrageous salaries, so it has become a eat or get eaten world in that profession.
And where college football once was marketed as a "rah, rah" amateur game, that ended long ago, and the pretenses were all lifted with the introduction of NIL, where players now are paid ... not to play the game but by some outside sponsor who is looking either to buy championships for their school or promote their product.
Goodness sake, there's a brand of beer out now connected to the Country Roads Trust, which finances deals that lure kids, not old enough to drink it, to the school.
Remember "Game of the Week." No more. First ESPN came along. Then ESPN2, Then ESPNU. They ESPN+ and all of a sudden, they were asking you to pay to watch a game you never would have ever thought you'd watch.
West Virginia in the Big 12? The Backyard Brawl no longer a yearly event? WVU playing BYU on a regular basis? Colorado, Arizona?
It's different, and it's all part of why there has been a slippage in the attendance at college games and the devotion many fans once had.
As the Big 12 has devoured seven new teams this year, you wonder what the heck they should name this new conference, for surely it isn't the conference Mountaineer fans thought they were getting into.
I can envision a new logo built around CCC ... Coast to Coast Conference.
Will what's wrong get corrected?
Brown isn't sure it will but also isn't sure it needs to be corrected.
"I don't know if it gets corrected; I really don't. I think we have to get people to understand that different doesn't mean bad. Sometimes, we get used to things. We get used to watching TV a certain way. We get used to certain rules within college athletics. We get used to conferences,' he said.
He makes a strong point in noting that "different doesn't mean bad" but it's hard to break long-standing attachments.
"I think people, in general, don't like change," Brown said. "But just because things are different doesn't necessarily mean they are worse."
That doesn't mean he's all for the evolution that has gone on in college football.
Brown spent a part of today signing autographs and talking with fans. It helped him understand the situation.
"Sitting there today, talking to people coming through Fan Day; a lot of the people are second, third or fourth generation Mountaineer fans that went to school here or grew up in the area and really identify with the Mountaineer logo; not necessarily me as a head coach or any of our players, but they really identify with the West Virginia logo because it represents the state or the school they went to."
And that means identifying with Mountaineer football, for it rules as king of all college sports.
"There's a lot more in football than other athletics. You have homecoming, there are certain memories attached to it. Football creates special memories. Football games are events," he said. "I don't have any data from the chamber of commerce here, but I'm pretty sure football games are the biggest revenue days in town. Everything and memories are tied into those events."
"What happens is a lot of those memories are tied around rivalries, which I think are really good. But now that's changing. Maybe there's going to be new rivalries. Maybe there's going to be different things."
"We're looking at basically four conferences now and they are spread coast to coast. That's different. Maybe they could be better." he admitted.
But maybe not.
He maintains that football must be strong and explains why.
"I don't mean to get on a soapbox, but I was fortunate growing up that I was able to play basketball through high school, I played baseball through high school and I played football through college. I've been part of a team for as long as I can remember, probably going back until I was 5 years old," he said.
"My parents were both educators. I say this, and I don't mean it against anything in the classroom, but I probably learned most of the life lessons I carry with me on the hardcourt, on the baseball diamond and on the football field."
"The game of football is the only game where your well-being is dependent on other people. That's true. You got to wear gear. You have to be able to go through and endure things like the heat in the summer. You have playing conditions in November where it's really cold."
"You have to learn life skills, how to be a good teammate. I could go on and on about this, but I feel really strongly about this. I get asked a lot about this because I have a son and there are people who are concerned.
"They're concerned about some of the stuff that's come out on concussions, on CTE and things like that. They ask if I am going to let Dax play football?"
Brown says his answer is always the same.
"I answer, 'I really hope so. I really, really hope so.' Now I'm not going to make him play but I hope he plays because I think there are life lessons and lessons on being a man that I don't think you get anywhere else."
"To me the risk — and there's risk associated with everything — but I'm a lot more concerned about my daughter who plays soccer without pads than Dax putting pads on and playing the game. I'm all for soccer, that's not a knock on soccer. I'm pleased my middle child plays and loves it and plays it year-round, but I'm more concerned about injury to her than I am about them in football."