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UVA throws another $80M at football, trying to solve a problem of its own making

uva football ops center
Photo: Scott German/AFP

UVA Football has its new 93,000-square-foot, $80 million palace of a football operations center that’s supposed to not only help the current roster, but it sure better be a factor in luring future big-time recruits, right?

The problem there being, UVA Football ain’t missing out on big-time recruits because it didn’t have a new 93,000-square-foot, $80 million palace of a football operations center until this week.

The factor there has been getting the right number of top athletes through admissions.

Until that happens, well, no sense going there, because it’s not going to happen, so let’s just pretend that yesterday’s ceremony unveiling the new ops center is a watershed event for UVA Football, since everybody there was doing their best to sell that idea.

“The new football operations facility is going to provide us what we need to compete as a team,” said third-year head football coach Tony Elliott, whose team is coming off back-to-back three-win seasons.

“The upgrades in technology and strength and conditioning, nutrition and sports medicine will allow us to be on the cutting edge,” Elliott said. “We also have the space to truly help our student-athletes grow personally and professionally. So, in totality, we have a big piece of what we need to go to work to becoming the model program in college football.”

I seem to be in the minority in that I have the opinion that Elliott has the program in a situation where it should rightfully expect to contend for a low-level, probably north of the Mason-Dixon line bowl this fall, which if it were to come would be UVA Football’s first bowl since Bronco Mendenhall had the ‘Hoos in the Orange Bowl in 2019.

The people who think I’m crazy point to the supposedly too-tough schedule, but other than at Clemson and at Notre Dame, I don’t know, there’s a lot of winnable games there, to me.

But even a 6-6 or 7-5 bowl is far from where the fans once let themselves dream of being. It’s been a while; I was a first-year student at UVA in 1990 when the Cavaliers spent three weeks at #1 in the national polls, but George Welsh got us there, and had us in the Top 10 in October in 1992, 1995 and 1998.

The last time a UVA team was ranked in the Top 10 was 2004; there have been five winning seasons for our teams in the 19 years since.

It’s fine to suggest that we can just throw money at the problem, because UVA and its well-heeled alumni and donor base has plenty of money to throw at problems.

The money people threw $86 million at a late 1990s project to expand seating capacity at Scott Stadium from 42,500 to 61,500, which in retrospect was not money well-spent, considering the average attendance in 2023 was just 43,293, and that was up from the 40,681 average in 2022.

Even in the 2019 Orange Bowl year, the average attendance at Scott Stadium was 47,863.

The pre-expansion attendance record, for those keeping score, was the 49,700 reported to have been on hand for the legendary UVA-Georgia Tech game in 1990.

The overflow packed the hill above the north end zone that was left intact in the expansion.

So, yeah, we didn’t really need to put more seats in the stadium, as it turns out.

The other bit of funny money that is being thrown at a perceived problem is the $13 million being put into a new oversized scoreboard and state-of-the-art audio system for Scott Stadium, which, the already-big-enough scoreboard and subpar sound wasn’t the reason people haven’t been coming to games, it’s the constant subpar play on the field.

The subpar play isn’t the fault of anybody in the program, from Elliott on down to the fifth-string walk-ons; everybody in the orange and blue works their asses off to try to make the most of what they have to bring to the table.

The issue is as old as the story of then-UVA President Colgate Darden turning down an invite to the Orange Bowl in 1952, citing his desire to steer clear of “big-time, highly subsidized football.”

That Virginia team finished the season ranked 13th in the AP poll; that’s still the highest final ranking for any UVA Football team.

Nearly three-quarters of a century later, we’re still feeling the effects of how we really don’t want to play “big-time, highly subsidized football.”

I mean, yeah, we can get a few scholar-athletes together every few years to make a run at an eight-win season, but we’ll never have a two-deep of 50 guys that can regularly compete with Clemson and Florida State in the ACC, and the best of the rest in the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12.

I guess we can be happy that the new $80 million football ops center will help the kids we have now, and the kids that we lure here down the line, be the best they can be in the here and now, and then as they move into the rest of their lives after football and after their time on Grounds.

There’s value there, for sure.

But in terms of “becoming a model program in college football,” no, just, no.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].

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