A riveting phenomenon burst onto the television screen as we watched the Maryland-Virginia football game on Saturday: numerous University of Virginia male students, clad in jackets and ties, cheering their team at an ultimately losing contest that was the anticlimax of an exciting season.

Even the TV sportscaster, apparently more accustomed to the informality of his North Carolina base, was astonished at what he saw in Charlottesville. He exclaimed something like, "Hey, here at Virginia, they wear neckties to the games!" Metro Scene didn't have a notebook at hand to get the precise quote.

Yesterday, we checked in with Joanna Leslie Roberts, the projects associate editor of The Daily Cavalier, the Virginia campus newspaper, hoping for an explanation of the apparent dress-code phenomenon at the tradition-bound university.

Roberts, a graduate of Arlington's Yorktown High School whose family now lives in Alexandria, said she wasn't sure about the origins of the necktie tradition, but speculated that it's "an old tradition going back to the good-old-boy era . . . Half or three-fourths of the men seem to go to games in ties . A lot of fraternities do it . . . At U-Va. it's a standard thing." Many women students choose dresses instead of slacks, she said.

As for Roberts, she opts for informality: "I just go in my blue jeans."