After two weeks, it's clear to me that the Virginia football program's biggest problem in 2014 isn't on the field. It's in the stands. Mike London's troops look improved, competent, and maybe even a bit dangerous for future opponents. Problem is, few people are going to Scott Stadium to see them.
Virginia's home opener against UCLA drew a crowd of around 44K fans, which was the lowest season-opening crowd since 1998. The win over Richmond drew a modest 34K fans (full disclosure: even I stayed home for that one), which Doug Doughty reports was the lowest-attended game Virginia has had since 1989. Attendance should be better for Louisville, but Virginia's administration needs to pull out all the stops to get people to Charlottesville for what could be the pivotal game of the 2014 season. The history, unfortunately, doesn't bode well.
After selling nearly 40K season tickets in 2006, Virginia has seen attendance steadily decline alongside the team's fortunes. The Cavaliers have had just 2 winning seasons since 2005 and Virginia fans have responded at the box office. Virginia sold a mere 23,500 season tickets this year, according to a Washington Post report.
Athletics Director Craig Littlepage sounded resigned to another season of lackluster attendance when he spoke to reporters in August.
"We understand our performance on the field needs to improve and our record over the last several seasons has turned some fans away," he told Jeff White on August 26. "I hope Cavalier fans will come together, get behind this team, and play a role in their success."
That's not exactly a show of chest-thumping pride, folks.
Ironically, on the same day, Virginia Athletics Foundation director Dirk Kastra was busy tweeting about how great basketball season ticket sales were going. "
@UVAMensHoops schedule coming out tomorrow," Kastra tweeted. "Season tickets still on sale. 240 away from breaking season sales record from 2nd year in JPJ."
Tweeting about hoops tickets less than a week before football opening day? Not great timing, Dirk. Not great timing at all.
On the other hand, one certainly can't blame fans and administrators alike for expecting the worst, burying their heads in the sand, and waiting until hoops season. It's been ugly in Scott Stadium for a while now.
But through two weeks, Coach London's team has given the Virginia faithful reasons for optimism. The defense looks great. The quarterback situation is better. Takeaways are up and turnovers are down. Virginia didn't fold down 21-3 against UCLA, which was an improvement. This version of the footballin' Hoos is an easy group to cheer for. It's time fans and administrators rallied around them.
I'll be there Saturday ready to cheer on the Hoos and heckle Bobby Petrino. Hope to see you there.