If you haven’t garnered from our Twitter account, we talk about other things besides sports. Movies. Music. Technology. One of my favorite movies that we used to watch at The University was the “Kevin Smith” Trilogy: Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. In the latter one, there is a scene where Jason Lee sits down Ben Affleck and he is trying to get his point across. Now while that scene is completely off any sort of sports topic, we are going to adapt this to our situation.
Image a bag of money at the intersection of 4 roads. Equidistant from that bag, are four figures: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, your typical UVa Athletics Donor having a say in Operational Issues, and the VAF. Now who gets the money first? Answer: The VAF, because the other 3 are a figment of your imagination.
It is a tough pill to swallow for fans and alumni of any college or university’s athletic team, but when you grasp one simple concept, it makes more sense. You might not like or agree with it, but it is the reality. Athletic Programs are, for the vast majority, autonomous businesses and are run as such. Sure there is a little overlap. The Directors are University employees and the Intermural Teams and fields are run on the University operating budget. But at the end of the day, what we view as “sports” and “athletics” is just another corporation. I could spend several articles showing examples of this, but for our purposes, that’s all we need to get into.
Now we have that behind us, let’s apply this to our current situation. For all intensive purposes, this football season is a wash. At 2-5, the conversation around C’Ville has turned from how bad we are going to be to how bad will we have to finish for Mike London to be fired THIS season. It goes something like this: “Well 4-8 might keep him around for a year, but how can he make it out of a 3-9 or 2-10 season?” And while 95% of the fans and donors have that conversation, it doesn’t make a lick of difference. Here is how the real conversation will go.
There are 3 groups of people that will make the decision. At the top is the President/BOV. This is still The University of Virginia, and the Athletics Department is ultimately a sub-set of this institution. But they are looking at money first and foremost. They want to know when the tuition and facilities checks are coming in and the $2.9 million they pay to the University each year. Yes, Virginia Sports not only is primarily self-sufficient, they turn a profit. And like the Kansas City gas stop scene in Casino, the VAF turns in a bag of cash to their bosses to keep them happy. As long as that happens, they really don’t care whether or not the team goes 10-2 or 2-10. Now when that dries up, the BOV will put out a hit/fire the Athletic Director, which ushers in group #2.
The person on The University payroll that is makes the Athletics decisions is the Athletics Director and, shocker, Craig Littlepage is not going anywhere. He runs the Vegas crew, er, the Athletics program and outside of football’s on-field production, Virginia Athletics is a well-run program. And because it is well run, the President and BOV have confidence in his decisions. Therefore, if Littlepage says he’s not going anywhere, like he did to the Washington Post last Thursday, then it is not happening. The only way that would change would be from group #3.
The people that have the most influence on the head coach and the only people that can change his mind are donors. No, no, no, not us, don’t be silly. I’m talking about the real donors. You know, the donors whose names are on the sides of the facilities. The people that if you add up all the money you spend on tickets, merchandise, travel, and donations for 10 years and multiply that by 10, that’s what they will write off on their taxes for 2013. While they appreciate your gift to the University, only a real few can speak with their wallets and actually do something. Don’t think so? Wonder why Groh lasted as long as he did, even when ‘fans’ stopped buying season tickets? Exactly. Until they get riled up, nothing is going to go down.
So what will keep London at UVa? You guessed it, money. Virginia will walk the company line and say ‘we believe in London’, but it will come down to the intersection of money remaining on Mike’s and what the donors will pony up. That’s why we have been saying all season that London would make it though next 2014. The price tag to fire him now, about $8-9 million, would be a little large. But after next season, UVa could work out a deal to buyout about half that amount, and that is something you can pitch to the donors. And if somehow they do fire London this season, then Littlepage would have done his best sell job at UVa, cause The University isn’t picking up the tab.
That’s about it. No happy ending. So you can keep moaning and groaning or get ready for basketball season in less than 3 weeks. Enjoy friends and family at tailgates and don’t worry about it too much now…because it is out of our control.