Football takes over tonight at Va. Tech

Campus commotion delights and frustrates at the same time

With so many eyes on football at Lane Stadium, Thursday night can be like a party in Blacksburg.
With so many eyes on football at Lane Stadium, Thursday night can be like a party in Blacksburg. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

BLACKSBURG, VA. -- Tara Green, 20, of Frederick, is a Virginia Tech senior with a double major in marketing and management, entrepreneurship and innovation technology. But like other students here, she won't be in class on Thursday night. Instead, she will be tailgating in preparation for the Hokies' contest against North Carolina, which she dubbed "the most exciting game of the season."

Both of Green's evening classes on Thursday were canceled because No. 14 Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) hosts the Tar Heels (4-3, 0-3) that night. To the angst of some faculty members, it is common for afternoon classes at Virginia Tech to be canceled before Thursday night home games.

Some faculty members interviewed for this story said that while there has been no official mandate handed down by the school, it has been implicitly suggested that they cancel afternoon classes before Thursday night games in order to clear campus parking lots. While students may welcome an early start to the weekend, such a notion does not sit well with those who say it sends a message that athletics are more important than academics.

"I'm highly annoyed by the misplaced emphasis on athletics at the university," Jan Helge Bohn, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, said in a telephone interview. "It infuriates me. The fact I have to move my car and go home and terminate work is outrageous in an academic community."

An e-mail sent by the school to students, faculty and personnel on Monday said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger had approved the closing of all university offices at 4 p.m. on Thursday, with the exception of those directly supporting classroom instruction. The message said classes would not be canceled.

Larry Hincker, Virginia Tech's associate vice president for university relations, said the choice to cancel classes has always been left to the discretion of each faculty member.

"Practically speaking, it is difficult to have a night class, not because you're going to lose a big chunk or your students -- you will -- but moving around on campus is difficult when you have 65,000 visitors," Hincker said in a telephone interview, later adding: "It's problematic, but it is once a year. And we give the faculty the right to structure their schedule. If they have a class, they have a class."

At the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia, school officials said classes and university schedules have not been canceled or altered for Thursday night home games.

North Carolina, which hosted Florida State last week for its first Thursday night home game, sent employees home two hours early to avoid traffic jams -- and the employees had to make up those lost work hours. Before its Thursday night game against North Carolina State in 2002, Clemson canceled classes after 1 p.m. Since then, the university has avoided scheduling Thursday night home games in order to avoid the disruption.

At Virginia Tech, many parking lots on the south and west side of campus have to be vacated before Thursday games to accommodate the football traffic. Those with passes can park on the north side of campus, near many academic buildings.

"It's just totally backwards in terms of their priorities," said Carole Browne, a co-chairman of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group of university faculty senates that promotes reform in college athletics. "They should be more worried about the football traffic and getting their students to class, rather than the football fans getting to the stadium."

ESPN began televising ACC games on Thursday nights in 1991. Virginia Tech's 19 Thursday night appearances have helped raise the Hokies' profile nationally. Among ACC schools, only Georgia Tech, which has played 23 games, has appeared more often in ESPN's Thursday night slot.

"If you can get on Thursday night and play well, I think it does a lot for your program; it does a lot for name recognition," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said. "I think it certainly has helped us with recruiting and getting into homes and people knowing more and more about Virginia Tech. I think it's been a big factor in changing the status of Virginia Tech football."

Virginia Tech only has one Thursday night game in Blacksburg this year, and some faculty members say they see the Hokies' occasional weekday home games as a minor blip in the academic calendar. Thomas Gardner, the Clifford A. Cutchins III professor of English at Virginia Tech, said he "can live with the disruption."

Gordon Kirk, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, said having a prominent football team "does great things for the university, much more so than somebody discovering something in their PhD dissertation, which five people read. That's true, and we're going to have to live with it."

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