Pitch Perfect

On May 30, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in the history of Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, resigned in the wake of an NCAA rules violations investigation. It was big news everywhere, but especially in Ohio, where college football couldn’t possibly be any bigger. The Tressel episode is only the most recent case study on the perils of big-time sports at American universities. Storied football programs and the immense funding they both generate and require have put universities like Ohio State on the national map. Yet Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, argued in a book titled “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education” that college sports, long expected to boost alumni giving, are not in fact good money-makers, especially at universities not near the top of the national football rankings. Instead, Bok says, they exploit students who are often admitted with low grades and test scores and are then given too little time to study. Still, he adds, competition among universities and colleges has kept up the pressure for more aggressive athletic programs, often undermining their educational values.

Until three years ago when I came to U.Va., I was a Michigan fan, so I can’t deny feeling a bit of schadenfreude at Tressel’s demise. Under Tressel, the Buckeyes amassed a 9-1 record against their archrivals, the Wolverines, a better winning percentage than even the legendary Woody Hayes, who beat Michigan 16 times, but also lost 11 times, something that Buckeye fans somehow tend to forget.

On the same day that Tressel resigned, Virginia’s men’s lacrosse team won the national championship in Baltimore, defeating the University of Maryland. It was a beastly hot day, and the heat, rising from the artificial turf, turned the stadium into an inferno, with reported temperatures of 120 degrees on the field. The lacrosse championship was a great triumph, considering all the pain the team has had to endure this past year. For most of our fourth-year student-athletes, this was the last competitive lacrosse game they will play. They will go on to graduate school, law school, business school, and other professional careers. They all have had superb guidance under veteran coach Dom Starsia, who has won four national championships at Virginia and was national coach of the year twice at Brown.

Meanwhile, the Virginia baseball team was beating North Carolina and then Florida State to win the ACC championship. At this writing, the team is on to this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional, seeded number one in the nation.

My good friend Hugh Evans (College ’88) played baseball during his time at U.Va. He told me that Wahoo baseball, like lacrosse, is a study in leadership. He recalled that U.Va. endured many sub-.500 seasons while he was here and in the years after he graduated. And then came 2004, when then 32-year-old Brian O’Connor took the team to a 44-15 record in his first year as its coach, winning ACC coach of the year in the process. Hugh Evans’ point: “Who says a single person can’t make a difference?” O’Connor has led the Cavaliers to eight consecutive NCAA tournaments, including the College World Series in 2009 when he earned two national coach of the year awards. Coach O’Connor and Coach Starsia believe in the importance of academic excellence. They also believe that good academics help us recruit better: but to believe that, it helps to know what it means to be a good student.

I taught political science at Northwestern for 12 years. One of my fondest memories was teaching “Introduction to World Politics” to Pat Fitzgerald, now Northwestern’s 36-year-old head football coach, who recently signed another contract extension, this time for 10 years. Back then, Pat was an All-American linebacker for the Wildcats. He had broken his leg late in the 1995 season when Northwestern went to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949—losing to USC, in part because Pat couldn’t play. He showed up for class on crutches, never late, and never missed a class. I only knew him as this handsome kid who always sat smack in the middle of the large lecture hall, and always (and mercifully) laughed at my jokes. When I passed out final papers, I called out his name and he came hobbling forward. I thought his name was vaguely familiar. So I said, “Pat Fitzgerald: where have I heard that name before?” The class roared with laughter at the fact that I did not know one of the most decorated athletes in school history. All I knew was that he worked very hard in my class, and earned the “A” that he received.

With the advent of “big time” college sports, it is perhaps inevitable that athletic coaches are often paid so much more than professors or academic administrators. They are increasingly the public faces of their universities, symbolizing their values, for good or for ill. That’s why it’s a good thing that Northwestern has someone of Pat Fitzgerald’s intelligence and integrity, and that U.Va. has Dom Starsia, Brian O’Connor, Tony Bennett, Mike London and any number of very fine coaches of our 25 athletic teams. Last year, for the 24th time since the Academic-Achievement Award was instituted in 1981, U.Va. was again recognized for its football graduation rates; the team won the national award in 1985 and 1986. Virginia is one of just 12 programs to win this prestigious award and one of only six to win it twice.

No one at Virginia can excel both in the classroom and on the field without stringent discipline, close attention to time management, the talent that we seek to find and bring to Charlottesville from across the country and around the world, and perhaps most importantly, the burning desire to do your best, and be your best, at whatever you do.

In an earlier post, I referred to the brilliant symmetry of the baseball field, the uncanny distances between the mound and home plate or between the bases that perfectly match and test the athletic ability of human beings. On a lovely day last Friday (June 3), I sat at Davenport Field, amid a large crowd, watching Will Roberts retire one Navy Midshipman after another. He pitched a shutout, while striking out 14 and walking none. Will got all the support he needed from teammate Danny Hultzen, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. On Saturday night, Danny pitched U.Va. to a 10-2 win over St. John’s in the second game of the regionals. Tyler Wilson gave Virginia its third straight stellar outing by a starting pitcher in a 13-1 win over East Carolina on Sunday. On Monday night, Danny was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the second overall pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft—the highest draft selection in U.Va. baseball history. Will, Tyler and three other Virginia players—John Hicks, Steven Proscia and Kenny Swab—were chosen in rounds two through 30 of the draft on Tuesday.

In March, Will threw a perfect game against George Washington, only the second time it’s happened in ACC history. It’s only happened eight times in NCAA Division I baseball since 1957. Watching Will, Danny and Tyler pitch reminds us of the kind of excellence that is rarely attained in sports or other human endeavors. How hard is it to throw a baseball from 60 feet, six inches at over 90 miles an hour, and not allow a single batter to reach base over nine innings? How tough do you have to be to play lacrosse in 120-degree heat? Better still, how hard was it for our men’s and women’s cross country teams to go to the 2010 NCAA championships last fall while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative GPA? It seems that our student-athletes are striving for “perfect games” all the time.

This weekend, we will all follow the Cavaliers in the NCAA baseball tournament. Coach O’Connor said in an interview in March that at Virginia, “We’re not one of those programs that have gotten to Omaha (site of the College World Series) year in and out. So that allows us to still have a feeling that we’re still proving ourselves. It keeps an edge. I kind of like it.” So do I, and I hope we go to Omaha this year. I know I’ll be there—rooting for perfection.

46 Responses to “Pitch Perfect”

  1. Jim Westhoff says:

    This is great recognition for our scholar athletes, not just on the baseball diamond, but throughout our entire athletic program.

  2. Ned Parrish says:

    Meredith, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy these pieces, and your apparent love of the University. All I can say is, I agree 100%. Thanks! Best, Ned Parrish

  3. jim migliarese says:

    Great article from the Ivory Tower. I’m a big sports fan and a much bigger fan of students who happen to be athletes. I would rather see a school post a 96% graduation rate for its athletes than a 12-1 record. Both is always better. Unfortunately, the inverse can’t be good for anyone in the long-term. Wish I had the time to go to Omaha. Go Hoos!

  4. Carter Hoerr says:

    Great post, thanks!

  5. Joe Latchum says:

    Kudos to Meredith Woo on such an insightful article and recognition to the current coaches, when the national sports news is dominated by the type of issues and problems of Ohio State, USC, UNC and other programs. It is sad that the media does not focus on the coaches when they make tough decisions with running their programs, illustrated so well by Dom Starsia this year, or appaud them as Meredith has for their exemplary leadership fostering the development of these young men and women into great athletes and people. The faculty, alumni, and friends of the University are very proud of the leadership of these coaches and accomplishments of our athletes, on the field and in the classroom. — Joe Latchum, College ’67 and Law ’71

  6. Garland P Moore Jr says:

    Meredith–Well said. I can’t recall the year but it was then athletic director Gene Corrigan who convinced then President Edgar Shannon that Virginia could succesfully “marry” big time athletics with big time education and the rest is history, so they say. Your old grey haired friend in Baltimore!! Bo Moore

  7. Kevin O'Shea says:

    Great article Dean Woo. Although I did not have the opportunity to sit in your political science class, I can relate to the Pat Fitzgerald story. I am a former UVA lacrosse player who came to UVA with nothing but playing lacrosse on my agenda, and left with so much more, thanks to great mentors, great coaches and a university that loved to win, but insisted on doing it the right way. The baseball team is still writing its 2011 story but the 2011 UVA lacrosse story of fighting through adversity with teamwork and sitting talented players that did not get with the program is a testament to that commitment. Congrats to that team, to the coaching staff of Dom, Marc and John, and to you for so thoughtfully recognizing this special balance in college sports. Go Hoos!

  8. G Steven McKonly says:

    Once again, an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.
    During my four years at the University, I participated with the men’s (we did not need that clarifier then) basketball program. I still look forward to each year and the season tickets I buy for that sport.
    Win or lose, we can be very proud of the Orange.

  9. Dan Shipp '68 says:

    Yes, there are still universiities and sports where athletes are students. Certainly that applies to the majority of college sports. But the ones that get all the attention – football and basketball – are sadly out of proportion, especially at the “powerhouse” universities where they are effectively minor leagues for the pros.

    I’ve had endless arguments over whether the national attention these sports bring is good or bad for the university. Sometimes they manage to provide an education to an athlete who otherwise might not have had a chance. But all too often the stars are just there for the training and exposure, eating up money and resources in programs whose revenue is plowed back into more and better athletic facilities and salaries for the major sports.

    So what happens when these bonus babies decide to bolt for the pros halfway through their college eligibility? Attention focuses on which team will get them and whether they’ll succeed. What has happened to all the money the university has invested in recruiting, training, coaching, tutoring, coddling and – yes – giving this person a seat in a classroom that might otherwise have been occupied by someone interested in a complete education? It’s lost.

    Let’s get it back. Institute a rule throughout college sports that scholarship athletes who go pro before completing their eligibility will have to reimburse the university for tuition, fees, and anything else that’s been paid out on their behalf. Take it out of the siigning bonus if necessary. That provides a financial incentive for athletes to stay in school, and an equally strong disincentive to going to college just to prep for the pros. On the other side, guarantee every scholarship athlete who plays through four years of eligibility that they can return and take classes at no charge for as long as it takes to get a degree. Playing on a big-time college sports team is an incredible commitment of time and energy and the university should be prepared to make allowances. But I can see nothing in a university’s mission that says it should be simply a training center for professional athletes.

  10. Rob Brown 68 says:

    Well Said

    I am blessed to have 3 sons. The word I use is “balance”. We strive to do our best at work & play.

  11. Theresa Fremont Seem says:

    Dean Woo, your insight and emphasis on the balance needed in big-time college sports is spot on. When winning becomes everything, almost everything else is lost. Virginia has found a way, however, to field tremendous athletic teams (tennis, lacrosse, soccer, baseball) by pursuing and recruiting student-athletes who recognize that the term student-athlete reflects “student” first, and “athlete” second. I could not be more proud.
    Theresa Fremont Seem
    CLAS ’86
    P.S. How did you get tickets for Omaha already? ;-)

  12. Bill Baker '61 BA says:

    Dean Meredith Woo has hit a home run, scored a goal and finished first with this wonderful, intelligent analysis of how college sports can and do fit in with the classroom at our University, especially when under the tutelage of fine coaches.

  13. Stephen N.Doniger says:

    Outstanding commentary!

  14. Brendan Lynch says:

    Dean Woo: Thanks for such a personal and insightful look at college athletics today, and UVA athletics and academics in particular. We – as alumni – are thrilled to have you as a leader of our fine insitution.

    Best regards,
    Brendan Lynch
    CLAS 1998

  15. George Snyder says:

    The tennis team placed second in the NCAA tourney this spring. Surely they deserved a mention in your post. As for those lacrosse players going to graduate school, what about the non-athlete students at U.Va., particularly those in fraternities?

  16. Craig Kramer (parent '13) says:

    The same day that Virginia was winning the ACC baseball crown, and the day before they won the lacrosse championship, the UVa Men’s Varsity Eight Crew was winning the national championship at the 1996 Olympic rowing venue in Atlanta, defeating three-time defending champion Michigan in a wire-to-wire thriller. The attached link tells the tale of the final 200 meters and shows the medal ceremony. The crew team rises at 4 am, six mornings a week, 10 months of the year, to train for these opportunities, so they match your description of the discipline and talent required to excel at UVa, and their coach Frank Biller, a former Olympian for Switzerland, has worked miracles in his three years. The team will compete at the Henley Regatta in London June 28-July 4 for what amounts to the world collegiate championship. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9ZQYRMoRvU

  17. Justin T. Mullen says:

    Great Blog!

    I am a 2004 Graduate and was the Captain of the Lacrosse Team in 04′. The one thing that I would add to your thoughts is the importance of the support system at UVA. Many of the student athletes at Virginia come in as the best player from their High School / State. They are also very often one of the best students at their high school. At UVA they are presented with the challenge of standing out in a school where everyone was the “best” athlete or “brightest” student. I am ultra competitive so when I stumbled my 1st year at UVA it was a shock to my ego and my emotional state. In addition to the support from the Lacrosse Program I had the benefit of working with Dean Gutman, Dean Handler, Professor Devereux and others who helped me return to the ACC Honor Roll and finish with a respectable GPA and a degree in Philosophy.

    I write this as a Thank You to the entire UVA support system and to you specifically for recognizing the value of the Student Athletes.

    The best part about UVA and the Lacrosse Program is that the support system is there for a lifetime.


  18. Randolph church says:

    I agree with George Snyder. I believe that over the last four years the tennis team has had the most remarkable success of any team ever at the University. Ranked number one all year in 2011, they barely lost to USC in a cliff-hanger before a hostile West Coast crowd in the title match. Their success in the classroom should also make us proud.

  19. Roger Wiley '67 says:

    Ater reading this third wonderful essay in succession on Dean Woo’s blog, I think she’s the one who has perfect pitch. What a pleasure it is to have her as a Wahoo! Let’s hope it is for the long haul. The University should not let a talent like hers get away.

  20. Brawner Cates says:

    Dean Woo, I remember Pat Fitzgerald and that Northwestern Wildcat Rose Bowl team well. The TCU Horned Frogs accomplished a similiar feat this year, defeating the mighty Wisconsin Badgers in a very exciting Rose Bowl game. For every Ohio State and USC Trojan story there are a 100 Pat Fitzgerald and TCU stories of true student athletes competing and learning at the highest levels. Very surprised you didn’t mention the Virginia tennis team that made it all the way to the national championship match, losing 4-3 to Southern Cal in Palo Alto, California. Incidentally, they beat Stanford (17 national tennis championships) on their home court in the quarterfinal round. An absolutely amazing feat. Congrats to Coach Boland and his Virginia netters. There’s nothing like following the Hoos. The longer you’re on the team the more you will love it. It gets in your blood and turns it Orange & Blue!

  21. CHUCK says:

    Meredith- too often there seems to be the idea that academics do not care for athletics, much less follow and support them. You have shown that both are possible. If we can have the patience and show the support for our “revenue” sports, UVA will produce the results the right way without compromise. Look forward to your next entry. Go HOOS!!!

  22. Ro Austin '71 says:

    Dean Woo;

    Wonderful entry. Thanks for being supportive of those who are truly “student athletes” at the University.

  23. David Nancarrow says:

    Dean Woo,
    I always look forward to your posts and this one hit the mark. Thank you.
    David Nancarrow
    BA ’60

  24. Donna Hearn says:

    I am particularly appreciative of your blog postings this year. They have been poignant and inspiring. Today’s posting resonates significantly for me. As a faculty advising fellow for the College, I serve as academic advisor for nearly 50 undergraduates. As such, I am privileged to work with both athletes and non-athletes. Without exception, the students with whom I work possess special qualities in the classroom and in an extracurricular context. A number of my advisees are athletes. I can say without qualification that they are certainly scholar athletes. My advising office hours begin at 8:00 a.m. and, invariably, the first students who make appointments are the All-ACC baseball pitcher, the All-ACC swimmer, the standout lacrosse (men’s and women’s) player or rower. It is often the case that they have already completed a practice session for the day when we meet. As we discuss their academic progress, I frequently have reason to reflect upon the obligatory level of discipline to which you refer. These are students with excellent life skill sets (leadership and mentoring rank high in their repertoire) as well as academic skill sets. We have every reason to be proud. I, too, hope that we can all meet in Omaha.


    Donna Hearn
    Assistant Chair, Department of Psychology
    Executive Director, Institute on Aging
    University of Virginia

  25. In the case of college sports—and perhaps in no other realm at the University of Virginia—I would welcome a return to “the good old days.” That’s when it was important to beat W&L, W&M and VPI–and certainly UNC, Duke, Navy, Penn and Harvard from time to time.

    USC and Ohio State are the latest universities to prove that what we call “big time athletic programs” will lead to institutional-emphasis problems on a regular basis. Places like Michigan and Wisconsin have drifted into that group, too, and now that human beings are in charge in Charlottesville—not the legendary Mr. Jefferson—UVa may be susceptible to troubling infractions, sooner or later.

    I frankly suspect that UVa will never become a consistent winner in football at the BCS championship level—nor consistently in the Final Four in basketball. It costs too much, both in dollars and in academic compromises, for an institution to compete at that level. UVa, after many years of effort, has attained a strong, verifiable academic reputation that has required a lot of time, money and talent. Unless therefore the wrong people sneak onto the Board of Visitors and the emphasis changes markedly (this has happened elsewhere), UVa will continue to pay a price athletically for putting “Academics First.” I believe this is a necessary sacrifice and yields the kind of pride that doesn’t “go before a fall.”

    UVa’s president (1959-74) was Edgar Shannon (a former Naval officer and Rhodes Scholar) at the time of remarkable growth. He said years later: “To fulfill our responsibility as the major research university and graduate university in the state we simply had to expand and actually we made a long-range plan and projection. When I started we were 4200. . . . We were up to about 14,500 when I left the presidency. We had a little more than tripled in size.”

    Mr. Shannon also faced student unrest and resisted much alumni pressure—including some on the Board of Visitors—to “lock those lawless kids up,” especially when he met with, and listened to, students after the U. S invaded Cambodia.

    The Richmond Times-Dispatch chimed in, urging a harsh administrative response to UVa students, to which a number of UVa law students (including John O. Wynne, now UVa’s Board of Visitors rector) responded with a letter to the RT-D editor, praising Mr. Shannon’s even-handed stance in the face of turmoil. I have a copy of the printed letter, supplied to me recently by Lang Keith, UVa College (1958) and Law (1970) graduate—also a USN submariner, and eventually a federal judge.

    In sum, as UVa has become more diverse and competitive in many categories that constitute the real purposes of a university, those defeats in “money sports” are much easier to bear.

    UVa’s graduates are now challenged to excel in the leadership of our state and nation—areas where our Founder had his greatest influence—before he came home to plan and implement the University.

    The challenges are on the order of those of Jefferson’s time, for which he intended this university to provide solutions. He probably didn’t envision a pair of ladies, Dean Woo or a President Sullivan, at the helm, but listen to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at UVa in September 2006:

    “In emphasizing how dramatically conditions have changed for racial minorities and for women, (O’Connor) said it’s difficult not to be optimistic. ‘A lot of work remains to be done, but much work has already been completed, and that work was initiated, in large measure, by Jefferson and the lofty ideals that he articulated for a young nation. … All Americans owe him a debt of gratitude because he dared to dream.’” (Anne Bromley, The Daily Progress, Sept. 30, 2006.)

    There’s also reason to believe that Jefferson did not dream about athletics, either big-time or small, at his university. He probably would have agreed with Dean Woo, however, in encouraging students in “the burning desire to do your best, and be your best, at whatever you do.” Including athletics. That’s what our country needs in fresh supply.

  26. Roger Adams says:

    Dean Woo:

    Your excellent analysis on UVa sports should be shared with a wider audience. “Best Seat in the House” on the Charlottesville radio station WINA 1070 is an excellent local sports show hosted by Jay James. I suggest that you go on that show and present your views.

  27. John D. Munford 11 C'50 says:

    Thanks for this recognition of UVa athletic performance and the value system we subscribe too which produces so many outstanding graduates. Yours was a wonderful tribute.

  28. Chris Taylor says:

    Some good points in there, but your proposed “rule” will never happen…nor should it. Do you honestly think a young man like Danny Hultzen should be forced to pay back what has been paid in his behalf? UVA has gained much more by his presence as a representative of the university and by his performance on the field than the very small amount invested in him. Just as schools are not required to renew athletic scholarships each year, athletes are not required to continue to compete for a school at the expense of what they decide is best for their future.

  29. Robert F. Baldwin, Jr. '62 & '68 says:

    What a wonderful statement of the benefits of striving for the proper balance between academics and athletics while pursuing excellence in both. The University is making great strides in this direction to the lasting benefit of its graduates and the stature of the institution.

  30. Allen Groves says:

    Another insightful and beautifully written post. Meredith, you consistently deliver for the many of us who so love the University. I’ll see you at Davenport Field this weekend.

    Allen Groves
    Law 1990

  31. charles gordon says:

    This was a excellent piece. I would like to add the name of Mark Bernardino to your list of coaches who are concerned with their athletes academically as well as athletically. My daughter successfully swam for Coach Bernardino for four years while pursuing a course of study leading to medical school. She is now beginning her fourth year of medical school after taking a one year leave of absence for a research fellowship.
    I believe that Coach Bernardino was a major contributor to her success at UVA and to her success since leaving UVA.
    I also believe that UVA has many similar stories about student-athletes and the coaches that influenced them during their time at UVA.

  32. Chris Binnig (CLAS 82) says:

    Thank you, Meredith, for another perceptive blog post, which should generate much intellectual reflection and discussion — as the numerous thoughtful comment posts above suggest it already has begun to do. Your discussion of Derek Bok’s book certainly has piqued my curiosity, and I intend to read it.

    One of the things that struck me in the readers’ comments is just how much many U.S. colleges and universities’ overall reputations — their brand, if you will — have become intertwined with, if not dominated by, the public perception of their athletic programs, especially (but not only) the high revenue sports of men’s football and men’s basketball. While I haven’t engaged in rigorous scholarship of this phenomenon, my experience tells me it is a growing — and potentially troubling — trend. For example, several readers’ comments refer to the USC athletic programs. I find it fascinating that the alleged rogue acts of a single team member of the USC football team over seven years ago continue to overshadow, for at least some members of the public, the many academic and other accomplishments that USC as an institution has achieved before, during, and after those alleged bad acts occurred. The same could be said for the current headlines concerning the football program at Ohio State, a university which, as you know from your time spent at several Big Ten institutions, has numerous academically excellent programs. Of course, rightly or wrongly, there undoubtedly are some members of the public whose perception of UVa is colored almost entirely by the Yeardley Love tragedy, and similarly, some members of the public whose perception of Duke is largely based on the very public, albeit legally unjustified, allegations made against several members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team a few years ago.

    So my questions for you and others to hopefully ponder are: (1) why is this so; (2) how and why did we get here (in other words, how and why have these athletic programs, and events related to these athletic programs, become such cultural, media, and reputational touchstones for american colleges and universities); and (3) are there any lessons to be learned and applied based on what we conclude from a scholarly examination of Questions (1) and (2)?

    I know one of the many challenges you confront on a daily basis is deciding how to innovate and refresh the academic curriculum at the College while operating under the financial strictures that the College and the rest of the University face. Although I don’t have sufficient familiarity with the College’s current academic offerings to know whether such a program or course already is offered by the College, it seems to me that a course examining the historical and evolving connections between athletics, the media, our higher educational system, and american culture might have much to recommend for it.

  33. Dean Woo: I thought your comments in “Pitch Perfect” were perfect. I am proud of all the UVa teams that have done so well while retaining their academic standing and “amateur” status.

  34. Marc Van Arsdale says:

    Dear Dean Woo,

    I have enjoyed reading your blog this year. Your most recent entry, Pitch Perfect, was of particular interest. Thank you for recognizing the efforts of the student-athletes at the University. The institutional support that our students feel when competing is palpable and certainly has helped those in our program deal with some difficult moments the past few years.


    Marc Van Arsdale
    Associate Head Coach
    Virginia Men’s Lacrosse

  35. Barney Grier, Parent says:

    Dean Woo: A great article which reflects the quality of the University’s faculty and students. My youngest son is a rising third year student and the other son an alum from both undergraduate graduate degrees. We are indeed pleased that both sons were selected by the University to attend such a fine institution. As a University of Miami graduate I find myself looking up to them for having what it takes to be accepted at Jefferson’s University.

    Best wishes as you continue your fine work.

    Barney Grier

  36. Buddy Best says:

    Wonderful comments from all, and spot on. I think we are, perhaps, at the pinnacle of UVA sports achievement when you look at baseball, lacrosse, tennis, track, swimming, polo,soccer, golf, etc, etc, etc, and of course we will certainly get better at football and basketball with the coaches we now have. This is a great time to be a fan of the Hoos!

  37. Mike Cary (CLAS '09) says:

    I had enough student-athlete friends in my time at UVa to respect the incredible amounts of work they put in, and just how grueling their schedules are. And I understand the role of these blog posts is to share a cutesy story to allow alumni to give themselves a little pat on the back for having attended a relatively prestigious, well-known university. But is UVa really all that different than Tressel’s Ohio State?

    I consider myself a sports fan, and for at least two of my years at the university attended nearly every football and basketball game, as well as a handful of baseball and soccer games. So I too would like to congratulate the recent athletic successes of Wahoo sports teams. But your post conveniently glosses over a lot of very important issues, instead opting to provide a few random, celebratory anecdotes.

    Perhaps UVa should be commended for its high graduation rates for football players. But why shouldn’t the graduation rate be high? The school bends over backwards for these athletes, providing them with resources that normal students don’t have. I had the opportunity to attend a “tutoring” session for athletes, and watched as these students were just handed answers and outlines to frame their essays. The work was being done for them. Were you also not aware that advisors tell student-athletes which classes to take and which teachers to avoid so that they can maximize their GPAs in order to graduate? What happened to intellectual curiosity and pursuing what interests you? With a few exceptions, scholarship athletes playing for-profit sports are just whisked through the system. It means one thing to graduate, and another to have graduated having learned something.

    Derek Bok is right. College athletics are exploitative and they do have a habit of “undermining [college] educational values.” We accept athletes with low grades and test scores and put them into normal classes with students who are paying to be there. As a sociology major I had an athlete in nearly every class I took, seeking what they thought (and were probably advised) was an easy passing grade. And with one or two exceptions, they consistently dragged down the quality of classroom discussion.

    In the spirit of Dean Woo’s article, let me share a brief anecdote. In one class, one of said student-athletes offered up only one comment the entire semester. We were discussing the return of many reform Jews to orthodoxism and he felt it necessary to mention that he had once seen a Hasidic Jewish man in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This was in a 400 level class!

    I’m willing to give the athletes themselves a pass. It’s not their fault. The system is stacked against them. Quite a few for-profit sport student-athletes are from lower class backgrounds, and we just chew them up and spit them out, using them for a quick buck during their four or five years in Charlottesville.

    And the baseball team, which is written about with such exuberance in this article, is far from perfect. Every student in a class of mine once witnessed three players engage in some suspicious behavior during an exam. In another instance, an athlete who had blatantly plagiarized wikipedia was struggling to pronounce the words he had copied and pasted into his presentation.

    Lastly, why must we continue to ignore all that was exposed last year in the Huguely case? Let us not forget as you commend Dom Starsia, that he decided to discipline a rather serious issue in house rather than report it. Everyone knows what happened next. My guess is this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to punishment of student athletes, whether they are self-entitled, blue blooded lacrosse players or over exploited basketball players. They play by a different set of rules in and out of the classroom, and this is hurting the quality and integrity of education at the university.

    We can keep commending ourselves for our relative successes in this broken student-athlete system. Or we can push for a change. I opt for change. Let’s stop exploiting these athletes. Let’s stop watering down the classroom to allow them to succeed. And lastly, let’s stop pretending we are so different from Ohio State. Any school featuring big time athletics is following a similar formula relative to athletes and academics. As UVa alums, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we are somehow above it all.

  38. Dick Dyas '67 says:

    Thank you so much, Dean Woo. Your observations are spot on and could not better express the pride of the Cavalier nation. Mr. Littlepage is weaving a truly relevant sports administration that we can all be proud of. And your eloquence and insight are in the best traditions of your office, commencing with the beknighted Dean Irby Cauthen.

  39. Dean Woo;
    While your time at the University has been short, I think you have captured the spirit of Mr. Jefferson’s academic village. Your blogs are insightful and on point. Thanks for your leadership and your articles.

  40. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Mike,

    You raise some of the larger concerns affecting intercollegiate athletics. These are complex issues for which there are no easy solutions. There is no doubt that excessive emphasis on success in competitive sports can undercut the welfare of athletes. That said, we should not shortchange the remarkable achievements of the athletic program at U.Va.

    The overwhelming majority of the student-athletes in the College do quite well, even under the strenuous demands of participating in Division I sports. To the extent they work hard to set and meet high goals, value hard work, and excel as individuals while working as a team with others, they are also role models for other students. In the College we expect the same from our athletes as we do from all students. Our athletes need to graduate in four years like all other students. (Some universities give athletes five years to complete a degree, recognizing they don’t always carry full course loads); and in the College we do not consider playing a sport to be an “extenuating circumstance” when students don’t perform well in the classroom. And there is no denying that the leadership of our athletic program is quite remarkable. Our coaches and athletic administrators are committed to excellence both on the field and in the classroom, and we are fortunate to have this extraordinary constellation of leaders representing the university.

    The issues that Derek Bok addresses are serious ones. They also underscore the importance of remaining vigilant so we can maintain the value of intercollegiate athletics, which is to pursue education and not athletic success “at all costs.”

  41. J.C. Dubya says:

    Parents of recruits continually question how their sons will be viewed by their classmates and the overall student body. Will their child actually be integrated with the academic and social community? Will they be engaged or merely seen as hired guns? How will their professors interact with them? Will our kid’s academic achievements be discounted because they happen to excel in athletics? Everyone understands their kids will be provided with every resource necessary to succeed on the field or court by their coaches at any school courting their athletic services.

    Parents look at their kids with an entirely different perspective. We fully appreciate the drive they demonstrate to achieve athletic successes. That is great but athletics is simply one facet of all that makes up our child. We know what scares them. We know their insecurities. We understand they need to succeed in areas other than athletic competition to grow spiritually. We worry about them leaving home for the first time. We worry about how they will adjust to college life. We want them to have the complete college experience. We want them to have the opportunity to grow up as they step out on their own. Our greatest fear is that they become segregated from the general populous only to be trotted out on Saturdays for three hours. We know and expect more for our child. Fortunately people in Charlottesville share in our hopes and dreams.

    Our family was lucky. Our son seems to have understood there is much more to be gained from college than 144 hours under the bright lights over 4 years. He was informed there would be know guaranteed admittances to particular schools within the University of Virginia as other highly ranked academic institutions had offered. Coach London made it perfectly clear from day one he would never dream of denying our son the opportunity to earn admittance on his own into particular programs. Otherwise, it wouldn’t mean anything. The football coach makes it obvious he maintains high expectations for his student athletes on and off the field. Coaches periodically attend classes to make certain their athletes are making the most of the opportunity provided. Coach London understands the need for community. Before commitments are taken, he makes it perfectly clear volunteer service is not only expected but required from all of his players. His staff understands you have to enrich any community you want to be a member of.

    Under the direction of Mr. Littlepage the athletic department at UVA is very unique. It very clearly shines above the rest. The ever-present desire to truly educate student athletes begins with the athletic director and continues throughout the entire athletic program. This can’t be discounted. Good students make good athletes. Athletics is an extension of the University…not the other way around.

    The writings from the Dean of Arts & Sciences are both comforting and calming to a parent. A balanced and well rounded education comes not only from within the classroom but in the general collegiate atmosphere. The athletic and academic administrations are on the same page. Both understand the importance of the other and who is in charge. Individuals may have issues but the leadership at UVA stands strong and united. There is no disconnect. That bond is what separates the University in Charlottesville from other “institutions”.

    That bond is what distinguishes UVA. Individuals want and need to be a part of a united student body striving to be the best in academics, athletics, community and comradery. That is why they choose UVA over all others.

  42. Lisa Hosac Lyons '00 says:

    Great article and insight from Dean Woo. I was an economics major at UVa and also on the women’s basketball team. Many of the lessons I learned as a result of participating in sports were as valuable as those I learned in the classroom. In my opinion, some of the skills such as time management, putting aside personal goals for the betterment of a team, and leadership, amongst others, are skills that can be used for a lifetime and translate into any arena (pun intended). Being a member of the team gave me a conversation starter when I introduced myself to my professors at the beginning of every semester. The vast majority of them were very supportive but there was a time or two when I actually felt that I had to work harder as an athlete just to prove that I took my studies seriously.

    I am not naive to the fact that there is often an “ugly” side to big-time college sports and Ohio State is an unfortunate recent example of this. UVa however, while not perfect, is a special place with many of the athletes not just well received within the university but also productive, contributing members in the community. Just as with religion, politics and anything else that people develop deep seeded passions for, there is not one perfect process to seamlessly integrate college athletic programs with their respective universities. If there were, we would not be able to enjoy these types of discussions and SportsCenter wouldn’t have enough material for 24 hour news.

    Having moved back to Charlottesville last summer, ten plus years after graduating, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with my coach, my favorite economics professor, Craig Littlepage, some teammates and friends, and numerous other people who make this university and this town as special as it is. So while I am admittedly bias, I truly believe that our athletic department has a lot to be proud of and a lot to celebrate and I commend Dean Woo for doing so. I too will be rooting for our baseball team to get to Omaha, just as I cheered for the lacrosse team all the way to Baltimore. Wahoowa!!!

  43. Art Johnson Class of 1960 says:

    Meredith (also my wife’s name): I loved reading your blog regarding our athletic program at Virginia. I attended the lacrosse NCAA win and also am a big fan of the baseball team. Brian and Don have done fabulous jobs with both programs. As I write this reply the baseball team is one win away from going to Omaha and the way Don turned the lacrosse program around in mid-year was truely remarkable. Also our tennis team got to the NCAA finals. I know we have the right coaches in place for football and basketball and that things will improve over time. I do have football season tickets and really enjoy coming back to Charlottesville in the fall. Rooting for UVA in any sport is one of my greatest passions. My friends get tired of all my bragging about almost any of our teams. Thanks for your comments on UVA athletics. My family goes to Brunswick, Maine every summer and I know you were at Bowdoin College. My father and a brother went there so we have something in common. Keep up the great work!!

  44. Cameron Wood says:

    Thanks Dean Woo,

    It is nice to know that we believe and know it is possible to have “a perfect game” of athletic and academic excellence. I have two young cousins who are brothers one year apart in age and both are at Princeton on baseball/academic scholarships.

    Keep the faith and thank you for your work.

    Cameron Wood
    College ’69

  45. Tim Dalton says:

    Mr. Garland Moore,

    I believe we spoke in Concord NH on Saturday July 30 in the lobby of the Fairfield Inn. My cousin’s husband, whose name I could not recall at the time, is Snowden Hoff. He played at UVA in the early sixties. It was a pleasure talking with you and I hope your grandson’s college search goes well.

    Sincerely, Tim Dalton