In yesterday's editions of The Washington Post, it was reported that the University of Virginia football team has the worst record over the last 25 years of all Division I schools. UVA's won-lost-tied record in that period is 77-176-3 for a winning percentage of .304, 135th among the 139 Division I schools. Counting in the same period the number of winning seasons, UVA's total of one is lowest of all Division I schools.
The school that Thomas Jefferson built has always rested elegantly on pillars of distinction.
But there is growing concern in this lush, history-rich state about the distinction of the University of Virginia football team. It, too, is making history.
The Cavaliers have had one winning season in the last 25 years-the worst record among all 139 Division I schools.
On the 10th anniversary of Virginia's last winning season (7-3), the school's coaches, athletic director, dean of admissions, administration and faculty feel they are finally on the road to improvement. But like many of the roads in Virginia, it is a slow one.
Other UVA sports teams have enjoyed at least moderate success, but football, the sport that requires the greatest number of players, has lagged behind for one basic reason: It hasn't had enough good players.
The reason for this is twofold:
Admission policies are strict.
Those who can qualify academically don't want to go to a losing school. They have their choice of Stamford, Notre Dame, Michigan-schools with histories of fine academics and good football teams.
Last year, UVA won one game and scored six touchdowns. Slowly, the citizens of Virginia have become fed up with paying taxes to support UVA while watching their finest high-school athletes (such as Steve Atkins, Alvin Maddox, Amos Lawrence and Mike Dunn) go to other states and make headlines at rival Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
In an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Al Rinaldi, a highly respected local football coach, said, "I'm embarrassed by the condition of college football in our state. One reason Virginia football is such a shambles is that we let other schools come in carte blanche and take what they want away. The role of a state university is helping students of its own state."
In a series of articles in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, former UVA football player Bob (Rock) Weir, an active alumnus, said, "Until this administration wants good football, we're not going to get it. They think football belittles the image of the University of Virginia. That's my opinion. We're the snob appeal. Until they change their attitude, I can't see any hope at all."
Coach Dick Bestwick, who has won three games in his two seasons here, has remained remarkably free of abuse. He has received only two critical letters in that time.
Instead, fingers point at the administration, which is seen as stubbornly adhering to an ancient set of admissions standards and a limited, and lofty curriculum while turning and apathetic ear to the complaints of the football-minded.
john Casteen, UVA's dean of admissions, does not dispute the fact that admission requirements are strict. He said the first thing the department looks at is what courses the student took in high school. He must have taken two years of algebra, one year of geometry, four years of English, one to four years of social studies and in most cases, two years of a foreign language.
Last year, the average college board score of UVA scholorship athletes was 1,050. By comparison, last year's entire freshman class at the University of Maryland averaged 950.
Unlike most larger state schools near urban centers. UVA does not have any "remedial" curriculum for the slow or disadvantaged learner - an area in which many schools house athletes who score poorly on college boards and have bad grades.
Asked about this posing a problem for the UVA football program, Casteen, who describes himself as a fan, said, "I don't consider it a problem. I consider it sound academic policy.
"We do make an effort to deal more generously with basketball and football applicants. But we have no place to put a student with reading deficiencies, or one who hasn't learned mathematics.
"Basketball has been successful enough that we believe our athletes can compete."
There is no real friction between football advocates and the board of admissions.
"I really don't want them (athletes who predict low academic success). I'd worry about them the whole time," said Bestwick. "I want to win to as much as anyone in coaching, but not at the expense of some kid."
Athletic Director Gene Corrigan agrees:
"I don't want youngster to come here and fail. Failure is a trauma that stays with you," said Corrigan. "You get into morality here.
"There is no sense in our admitting a kid who just can't stay here. They last one or two years, but then what do they do with their lives? People don't think about what's going to happen to these guys."
Bestwick argues, instead, for a broader curriculum.
"In looking at other schools, theschool we compete with, there are a number of things players can major in which will prepare them to make a living," said Bestwick."
"I think there's a certain responsibility at a state university to provide young people with a school where they can find a major that will help them earn a living. Sure we turn out doctors and lawyers. But what about journalists?
"We have no journalism major, no communications major."
Apparently, this argument draws no sympathy from the administration.
Alan Williams, a history professor, the faculty representative to the ACC and the NCAA and also a former offensive guard at Westminster, Pa., said. "We are not geared to bringing in lots of students who need remedial work. This would have to change the whole nature of the university. We have a community college system that is doing this beautifully. That isn't going to happen here."
That is verified by university President Frank Hereford, who says, "we haven't given any consideration in the last few years to establishing new schools or new curriculum. There is not the climate for it. UVA does not want to become enormous. We think that there's a feeling for the unique characteristics of UVA that would be impaired if we raised our enrollment from 16,000 to 40,000."
Hereford disputes the allegation that the administration is snubbing athletics. He said he personally spent a great deal of his time helping to raise approximately $800,000 that is being used to renovate and enlarge the football stadium.
"We are sure we can be successful without compromising our standards," said Hereford. "What we have to overcome is our losing record."
Similarly, Corrigan says the biggest roadblock in the way of acquiring top-notch athletes is what he calls "negativism" about the program, the losing tradition. It really took hold, Corrigan said, when UVA joined the ACC "as a lark" in 1954, even though it possessed only the skeleton of a football program.
"Football was not of great concern here years and years ago," said Corrigan. "There was a very strong tie-in to Thomas Jefferson, and the honor system, and our Rhodes scholars, and somehow football just didn't fit in."
So, for years, UVA operated a football program on a poverty budget, lost to schools with better program and started the negative tradition that has caused a turnover of four coaches in the last eight years.
"I think we have better players now. But I'll know better about our potential for a winning program in the next two or three years," said Bestwick. "I really believe the administration would like to see us succeed. I'm not certain they know exactly what it entails."