America’s Best College Sports Town: The Final Four

After two weeks, 30,000 votes and a ton of tweets, the finals for America’s Best College Sports Town are upon us. This is how it’s going to work: The four towns below, all of which won their respective regions, will square off for the next week in a round of voting to determine who wins this coveted title and, more important, a badass trophy. Voting starts now and ends one week from today, on March 28 at 12 p.m. EST. After that, the celebration begins.

Morgantown, West Virginia

Population: 30,333
West Virginia University enrollment: 29,306
Top 25 Finishes in football and basketball since 2000: 10
Awesome alums: Don Knotts, Billy Mays, Jerry West

West Virginia University is a perennial fixture on every list of top party schools. And why not? Its football team, which is almost always in the top 25, and its basketball team, which is good for a tournament run every few years, certainly give the student body something to celebrate.

And when we say celebrate, we mean CELEBRATE. Because Morgantown isn’t just home to countless bars and never-ending frat parties, it’s also the “couch burning capital of the nation.” Yes, couch burning. Tradition dictates that students drag cheap furniture into the street and set it aflame following a big WVU win.

Obviously, the school’s administration and local fire officials have tried to cut down on the use of furniture as kindling.  As evidenced by the fiery display after the Mountaineers won the Big East Tournament last year, their crackdown has been as successful as trying to find a WVU student without a tattoo. In fact, couch burning is so ingrained in WVU culture that there are Mountaineer fan sites named “We Must Ignite This Couch” and “Couch Fire Sports.”

In short, if you like your booze plentiful, your flames high and power forwards with names like Kevin Pittsnogle, Morgantown could be described as “almost heaven.”

Knoxville, Tennessee

Population: 183,546
University of Tennessee enrollment: 27,107
Top 25 finishes in football and basketball since 2000: 9
Famous Alums: Peyton Manning, Woody Paige, Todd Helton

Hate is part of what makes big-time college sports so fun. Hatred of your rivals, who, if you play in the SEC, are inevitably as crooked as you say they are.

University of Tennessee has some pretty intense rivalries with University of Florida, University of Georgia and University of Alabama. And it’s not just other schools UT fans hate. They also have tons of bile built up for former football coach Lane Kiffin, who in 2010 left Rocky Top after only 14 months to join USC. By blatantly using Knoxville as a stepping stone, the boy wonder enraged the Tennessee faithful so much he needed a police escort on the way out of town to protect him from rioters. That’s what we call passion.

So it was music to any Volunteers fan’s ears when, upon Kiffen’s arrival at USC, the Trojan football program was promptly slapped with two years probation for the sins of the previous regime.

This probably doesn’t make up for the fact that the Vol’s powerhouse football program has struggled over the last few seasons, and that their usually competitive basketball program is mired in scandal. But a little hatred goes a long way toward spicing things up during the down times. And the great thing about Knoxville is that no matter where the Vols find themselves in football and men’s hoops, the Lady Vols will always be among the best.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison population: 235,626
University of Wisconsin enrollment: 42,009
Top 25 finishes in football and basketball since 2000: 14
Awesome Alums: Frank Lloyd Wright, Joan Cusack

When one thinks of Madison, Wisconsin, one thinks of a bunch of longhairs playing hacky sack and the kind of political activism that has pushed the state capital to the forefront of the news over the past month.

But lurking alongside the tree-hugging and hemp-loving is the University of Wisconsin’s powerful athletic program, which has been equating itself rather well in both football and basketball over the past decade.

The Badgers are known to have one of the most passionate student cheering sections in the nation, whether they are making noise in the Kohl Center, their state-of-the-art basketball arena, or Camp Randall Stadium, their ancient football field.

During football games the students sing frat-house favorites “Jump Around” and “Sweet Caroline” in unison–which probably makes you whatever the opposite of a hippie is.

Eugene, Oregon

University of Oregon
Eugene population: 156,185
University of Oregon enrollment: 23,389
Top 25 finishes since 2000 in basketball and football: 9
Awesome alums: Phil Knight, Ken Kesey, Ahmad Rashad

In football, Oregon has two huge rivals: Oregon State and University of Washington. The Ducks have now defeated the Huskies seven straight times, and, in their intense interstate “civil war” with the Beavers, they have three straight wins.

Not only that, but the U of O, with their bright-as-the-sun uniforms and exotic offense, almost won the whole darn thing in 2010, falling to Auburn in a hard-fought BCS championship game.

Perhaps all this success has gotten to Duck fans’ heads, as they have been the runaway winners of the “most obnoxious fans in the Pac 10″ in multiple polls of Pac 10 fans.

Or perhaps all the blasé left-coasters who voted in these polls are mistaking passion for obnoxiousness.

Either way, there is little doubt that the folks in Eugene love their Ducks. And with a national profile that keeps raising, and a steady flow of Nike dollars from University of Oregon alum and Nike founder Phil Knight, expect Oregon fans to have plenty to be obnoxious and/or passionate about in the future.