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A Winning Strategy for Athletics

In athletics, 2000–2001 was a year to celebrate outstanding seasons for many of the University's twenty-four sports teams. It was also a time to contemplate the future of these programs and to begin crafting a long-range strategy for sustaining a winning tradition.

Programs that posted exceptional records include women's rowing and the men's swimming and diving team, both Atlantic Coast Conference champions. The men's basketball team finished with a 20-9 record and its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1997. The football team earned a postseason trip to the O'ahu Bowl.

Among individual student-athletes who deserve to be singled out for their accomplishments are Conor Gill, Mark Koontz, and Lauri Kenis in lacrosse; Huntley Montgomery in tennis; Naccole Guinn, Inge Jorgensen, Brian Kollar, and John Welch in track and field; Marlies Smulders in women's rowing; and Luke Wagner, Gary Marshall, and Mirjana Bosevska in swimming and diving. All were first-team All-America selections in 2000–2001. Cara Lane, also a first-team All-American, was the NCAA champion in the 1650-yard freestyle and was named ACC Women's Swimmer of the Year. Brian Vahaly finished a college career unmatched in Virginia tennis history. A two-time ACC tennis player of the year and three-time All-American, he compiled an overall singles record of 40-6 in his fourth year and advanced to the finals of the NCAA singles championship.

Al Groh PhotoOur coaches also won honors. Randy Bungard, head track and field coach, was selected ACC Men's Track and Field Coach of the Year and was named the Southeast Regional Coach of the Year by the United States Track and Field Coaches Association. Head swimming coach Mark Bernardino was named ACC Men's Swimming Coach of the Year and was head coach of the United States men's swimming team at the 2001 World University Games. Coach Debbie Ryan took the women's basketball team to its eighteenth straight NCAA appearance and was selected to lead the United States team in the World University Games.

Re-examining Our Priorities

The long-range future of athletics at the University goes beyond the fortunes of any one team, coach, or student-athlete. It must rest on a sound foundation of careful planning, academic integrity, and fiscal responsibility. According to the NCAA, it has become increasingly difficult for athletics programs to balance their books. A recent report showed that 54 percent of Division I-A schools nationwide experienced budget deficits in 1999. For all institutions, the costs of maintaining competitive sports teams are rising steadily, while revenues from television and apparel contracts are reaching a plateau.

In response to these concerns, as well as the challenge of complying with Title IX gender equity requirements, President Casteen formed the Virginia 2020 Strategic Planning Task Force for the Department of Athletics. Chaired by Carolyn Callahan, a professor of education and the University's faculty representative to the NCAA, the task force studied four areas: programs and facilities, academic and student life, compliance, and funding.

After reviewing the report, which determined that the Department of Athletics will face persistent financial challenges despite current cost-saving measures, the Board of Visitors called for the University to develop new sources of support for its sports programs, including intensified fund raising and higher student fees. The board also asked for a five-year plan for achieving a balanced budget, which was presented in October. The University has already acted on a number of recommendations in the report that will ensure the continued academic success of student-athletes. The University also followed the recommendation to add women's golf to its roster of intercollegiate sports. This decision was largely made possible by a $1.4 million gift from Linda Eacho and William Eacho (College '43) for women's golf scholarships.

Craig Littlepage PhotoTaking It to the Next Level

The University is taking bold steps to continue improving its athletics facilities. With the completion of the expansion and renovation of the Carl Smith Center, home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium, attention is turning to the needs of the basketball programs. In June, a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor set the pace for an emerging fund-raising effort aimed at creating a new athletics and special events arena. In October, Paul Tudor Jones II (College '76) committed another $20 million to the arena project, which will cost an estimated $125 million. The goal is to complete the facility by the fall of 2006. During the summer, the Department of Athletics received $2 million in gifts to transform the University's baseball stadium into one of the best ballparks in the ACC. Improvements will include a canopied grandstand with chair-back seats, skyboxes, and stadium lights.

As it moves forward with these projects, the Department of Athletics will rely on capable new leadership. After six years as director of athletics, Terry Holland moved to a new position on President Casteen's staff to concentrate on fund raising and planning for the new arena. Under Mr. Holland's leadership, Virginia attained its highest Sears Directors' Cup rankings, which measure the combined performance of men's and women's sports. Mr. Holland has been succeeded by Craig Littlepage, the first African American to be named an athletics director in the ACC. An economics graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Mr. Littlepage was an assistant basketball coach at Virginia from 1976 to 1982 and from 1988 to 1990. He also held head coaching positions at Pennsylvania and at Rutgers. After joining Virginia's administrative staff in 1990, he was promoted to associate athletics director in 1991 and to senior associate athletics director in 1995.

After nineteen seasons, George Welsh has retired as the most successful football coach in U.Va. and ACC history. He is credited with elevating Virginia football from a struggling program that had never played a bowl game to one that ranks among the nation's best, both in consistency of winning seasons and in its players' graduation rate.

Al Groh, former head coach of the New York Jets, returned to Charlottesville to take charge of the team. A 1967 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, he was a defensive end for the Cavaliers and also lettered in lacrosse. After a coaching career that has included stints at Army, North Carolina, Air Force, Texas Tech, South Carolina, Wake Forest, the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Giants, the Cleveland Browns, and the New England Patriots, as well as the Jets, he is clearly glad to be back on the Grounds. "I think this is one of those institutions that you belong to forever," he says.

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