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What is Carla Williams doing to fix UVA football? It’s time for accountability

Chris Graham
carla williams
UVA President Jim Ryan, football coach Tony Elliott and Athletics Director Carla Williams at the groundbreaking for the new Virginia Football Operations Center. Photo: UVA Athletics

Over breakfast in the shadow of Fenway Park last week, Scott German brought up the work on the new football ops center at UVA, that we’ve been told for years will be a big step forward for the Virginia football program.

Why, my question that ensued began, is this such a big deal?

The conversation would go on for an hour, and I’m not sure we have the answer.

Fixing UVA football is going to take a lot more than an $80 million building.

Honestly, we should be in the second half of Year 7 of the rebuilding effort, but it feels like we’re still at square one, if not square zero, in terms of doing what needs to be done to fix UVA football.

And I’m not just talking here about the part about on the field, where Carla Williams’ hand-picked guy, Tony Elliott, is coming off back-to-back three-win seasons heading into his Year 3.

Williams, you may remember, ran off Elliott’s predecessor, Bronco Mendenhall, who had been hired by her predecessor, Craig Littlepage, and we all know the rule when it comes to ADs and football coaches, which is, they want a guy that they hired to be running that particular show.

So, OK, Mendenhall had Virginia in the Orange Bowl by his Year 4, and though his teams in the two COVID years struggled to .500 finishes, the pieces seemed to be in place, both on the field, and with that ops center about to come online, toward getting a consistent seven- to eight-game winner on the field every year.

But Mendenhall wouldn’t get rid of his defensive coordinator at Williams’ urging, so, he ended up leaving.

When I look ahead to the fall, I think Elliott has things in the direction of getting Virginia back to where it was when Mendenhall left, back to being in contention for the kinds of cold-weather bowls that take .500 teams.

On the field is just part of what has needed fixing with UVA football, though.

Where the Williams era has failed miserably is on the business side.

For starters there, Virginia has averaged 42,943 fans per home game in the five full seasons that Williams has been the AD, not counting, for obvious reasons, the 2020 COVID season.

That translates to a shade under 600,000 empty seats over those five seasons.

That’s a lot of money being left on the table.

Put a modest value at $50 for the price of a ticket, a drink and a hot dog, and we’re talking $30 million left on the table, and that’s not accounting for what the athletics department could get from the sale of season tickets in terms of the additional donor dollars that it takes to be able to get priority seats.

I’ve been writing for years about things that could be done to address the empty-seat problem, starting with dynamic pricing for single-game tickets during game week, deep discounts and even free tickets for games with a high number of expected empties, anything and everything else that you could do to get butts in seats, the idea being, even if you give away thousands of freebies for one or more games, you can use those to build single-game and season-ticket buyers in the future.

That’s one approach that needs to be taken, and it boggles the mind that we haven’t seen any efforts in the past six years to do really anything of consequence in this direction.

The next thing is the gameday experience, which includes not only what fans experience inside the stadium, which is being addressed with the installation of a new massively oversized scoreboard and state-of-the-art sound system that will be in place for the fall, but also outside the stadium.

The parking and traffic situation around Scott Stadium is simply unacceptable, with limited high-dollar parking available around the stadium, and limited availability of shuttles to parking areas at the JPJ stadium complex on North Grounds and the Fontaine Avenue parking area located off Interstate 64.

It’s been 16 years since UVA has had 60,000 for a home game, but even with the 56,508 that were in town for the home opener with JMU last September, traffic was at a standstill on the Route 250 bypass and Ivy Road two hours before kickoff because the parking lots were full, and people didn’t know where to go.

For all the work that Elliott and the football people are doing to get past the three-win mark and in the direction of a cold-weather bowl game in December, it’s going to be hard to accommodate an influx of fans given the current infrastructure realities on Grounds and in Charlottesville.

An idea that Scott suggested – this was a long breakfast – would have UVA build a new football stadium on the outskirts of Charlottesville, where traffic ingress and egress and parking could be properly accommodated, with the added benefit of turning over the prime real estate currently occupied by the outdated Scott Stadium over for student housing and other uses as identified by the university.

Hmmm, was my reaction to that idea, which I have to concede, almost makes too much sense.

You could a new stadium with an appropriate number of seats – UVA clearly doesn’t need 61,500 – and more comfortable seats – how about seatbacks for everybody, instead of bleachers?

You could have ample parking, ease of traffic.

The team winning games wouldn’t be a nightmare for people who want to see the games in person, which hasn’t been a problem for a while, but we hope Elliott and Co. are moving us in that direction.

We’re hearing nothing about any movement toward addressing any of the plainly obvious issues with UVA football.

Fixing these and other issues with UVA football should be the first thing that Carla Williams thinks about when she wakes up in the morning, and the last thing that she thinks about at night.

The people that she answers to need to start holding her accountable.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," 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].