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Season-ticket Twist Makes Pressure Groh

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff




May 30, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE – Another variable has been thrown into the debate over Al Groh's future as Virginia's football coach.

In the second week of May, UVa announced plans to revise its football season-ticket policy, basically putting a higher premium on donations and levels of donor support.

Virginia has built its season-ticket base to 39,000 since Groh's arrival as head coach in 2001, but fans were able to purchase season tickets, in some cases, without making a substantial donation.

A 5-7 record in 2006 should not have a significant impact on 2007 ticket sales, but things could get sticky in 2008, when the new policy goes into effect. If the Cavaliers go 5-7 again, or even 6-6, season-ticket holders could be ready to bail.

Dirk Katstra, the former UVa player who serves as the director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation, said projections indicate that a donation of $2,500 will be required for seats between the 20-yard lines.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom was that Groh would keep his job if the Cavs go 6-6 and maybe 5-7. He has four years remaining on his contract, starting with the 2007 season, but a change might be required to generate the kind of excitement necessary to sell season tickets at previous levels.

Even if the Cavaliers were to have a bowl team, which would be their fifth in sixth seasons, how many fans are going to want to increase their donations at the level UVa officials seem to be expecting? It will be a surprise, under any circumstances, if Virginia keeps its season-ticket base at 39,000.

Maybe that's why Virginia went out and scheduled a two-game series with Southern California that will begin when the Trojans make a trip to Scott Stadium in 2008. Virginia's non-conference opponents for that season had included East Carolina, Connecticut and Division I-AA Richmond.

Efforts are underway to add a marquee non-conference opponent for 2009 – West Virginia, possibly – before the Cavaliers go to Southern Cal in 2010.

FSU SPRINGING LONG SURPRISE?

Virginia's football recruiting for the Class of 2008 took a hit when Kyle Long, younger brother of two-time UVa co-captain Chris Long, made a commitment to Florida State for baseball.

Long, a 6-7, 280-pound offensive and defensive lineman for St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, was rated the No. 1 football prospect in Virginia at the end of his junior year. At least one report did not have him rated among the top 20 baseball prospects in the state.

Sources indicated that Florida State offered a 70-percent scholarship offer to Long, a left-handed pitcher and power-hitting first baseman, but he did not get a baseball offer from Virginia. Coach Brian O'Connor's plan was to scout Long more extensively at summer showcase events.

The suspicion in many parts is that Long will get to Florida State, struggle for at least a time in baseball, and join the Seminoles' football team. However, Long had said earlier that he would not put himself in a position of playing football against Virginia.

In baseball, either FSU overvalued Long or Virginia undervalued him, but it's hard to believe that the Cavaliers voluntarily would allow one of the Longs to leave town. There are rumblings that father Howie Long does not think that UVa's 3-4 defense best utilizes oldest son Chris' skills, but Howie always has been complimentary of Groh and the Virginia program when speaking publicly.

There also is a school of thought that says Kyle Long enjoys whatever sport is in season and, after a fall of playing football and watching his brother play for the Cavs, he may revisit his decision. The word from STAB baseball coach Alan Swanson is that Long has committed to FSU "for baseball," and the first signing date for baseball isn't until November.

NO CERTAINTY WITH SINGLETARY

Basketball standout Sean Singletary, Virginia's first two-time All-ACC selection since Bryant Stith in the early 1990s, headed to Orlando, Fla., at the end of May for the NBA's annual pre-draft camp.

Singletary earlier had visited Houston to spend time with point guard guru John Lucas, although the prevailing theory in Charlottesville was that Singletary would return for his senior year at UVa.

That sentiment was based largely on coach Dave Leitao's comments on a spring speaking tour of VAF functions. Leitao feels he has the kind of relationship with his player in which Singletary would not possibly hire an agent or accept money – actions that would cost him his college eligibility – without first consulting Leitao.

Before and after Singletary placed himself in consideration for the NBA draft, both of his parents said he would return. It is a college-educated family that had the means to provide for the kind of summer travel that should prove beneficial for the 2007-08 season, college or pro.

One concern among UVa fans with Singletary's situation is that this year's draft is not at all strong with point guards. If Singletary were to separate himself from a pack of similar players in Orlando, he might be enticed to leave, because next year's draft is not expected to have the same dearth of quality point guards.

Certainly, many players have turned pro after strong disclaimers in the past, so Virginia fans are going to hold their breath until June 18, the deadline for players to remove their name from the June 28 draft. If Singletary were to leave, UVa would not have a returning double-figure scorer in 2007-08.

LEITAO FACING STAFF DECISION

Leitao's history would suggest that he will take his time in filling the vacancy on his staff created by Rob Lanier's departure for Florida.

Lanier, once the head coach at Siena, rejected an opportunity to go to Florida after the 2005-06 season – his and Leitao's first at UVa – but felt that the Cavaliers were on more solid footing this time around.

Lanier probably feels it will be easier to get another Division I head coaching job from Florida, the reigning two-time NCAA champion, and with a connection to Gators coach Billy Donovan.

At Virginia, Leitao is now in the position of having to make a major hire for the second year in a row. Following the 2005-06 season, Leitao lost original hire Gene Cross to Notre Dame. Leitao replaced him with Bill Courtney, a Providence aide who had gone to high school in Virginia and worked under Jim Larranaga at George Mason.

The senior member of Virginia's staff is now one-time Drexel coach Steve Seymour, the last of Leitao's three full-time hires in 2005, but clearly a respected aide. With Seymour and Courtney, Leitao has a strong nucleus, but he certainly will have the resources to bring in another top-level coach.

Leitao twice has interviewed ex-Virginia player Jason Williford, who would be a possibility if Leitao wanted to stay inside the Cavaliers' family. Leitao has shown a willingness to embrace players from former Virginia coaching eras but so far has not gone that way in hiring situations.

Recruiting remains a major priority for Leitao, who made the final six for Kentucky-bound prep All-American Patrick Patterson from Huntington, W.Va., but eventually found that his efforts were in vain.

Moving forward, the recruiting of top in-state big man Ed Davis is critical, not only for a suspect frontcourt, but to show that the Cavaliers can attract a major in-state prospect. The competition, including Connecticut, North Carolina and newly resurgent Georgetown, will be formidable.