Craig Littlepage to the UVA Community: "I'm Sorry"

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IFebruary 6, 2009

National signing day has become a new holiday for college football fans.

Across the country, teams celebrate the new heralded class full of highly-rated superstars and a few diamonds in the rough which will bring their team some extra talent and depth for years to come.

There was joy across college campuses, including the University of Virginia, who picked up their top recruit—offensive lineman Morgan Moses from Varina High School—at the last minute.

So why would Virginia's athletic director play the role of Buzz Killington that same day when he released the following statement:

The University of Virginia has some of the most loyal and generous fans of any school in the country and we are extremely appreciative of that support. Significant investments have been made in our program and, as with any investment, results are expected. As the Athletics Director, I expect results as well.

Many of our fans have voiced their frustration and I am frustrated as well. I am committed to making sure we are the very best we can be in each of our 25 programs. Many of our programs have performed extremely well over the past several years, while others need our attention and support. Improvements in football and men’s basketball are a priority. All of our programs will continue to receive the support they need. The programs that need to improve will be given the proper focus and attention.

I expect us to win our in-state battles, and to compete for ACC and national championships. This was part of our plan several years ago when we stated publicly that we wanted to be a top ten program consistently in the Directors Cup standings. We remain committed to building a program that will finish in the top ten on a consistent basis.

I am committed to do everything needed to get all of our programs on track. The intended results are for our student-athletes and teams to have high levels of achievement, academically and athletically, while contributing to the quality of the University community.

Craig Littlepage
Director of Athletics

Re-affirmation of faith?  Maybe, but you would have to wonder why it took so long for this to come.

It really is no shocker to learn that Virginia is struggling this year in its main revenue sports.  It certainly is not a recent trend.

Despite an undefeated October, UVA football finished with a 5-7 record which was tied for Duke with the worst record in the conference.

Even though UVA did not have the worst conference record, when you consider UVA lost to Duke 33-3, it is not a stretch to consider Virginia to be the real cellar dweller last season.

Adding to that frustration, Virginia basketball is currently battling Georgia Tech for last in the ACC with one win in-conference.  UVA could literally lose out, with their lone 2009 victory over the mighty Brown Bears.

Meanwhile, Littlepage, who has been hiding under a rock for nearly two months, has come out and told Virginia with an open heart: my bad.

Yes, things are really bad right now and Virginia fans wanted action.  So Littlepage reacted swiftly...with a letter.

The timing has confused many Virginia fans, considering that the perpetually negative atmosphere around sports this year had finally lifted for a day only to be brought back by one man who may have begun to feel pressure for his own job.

Well, maybe the answer came in a little alumni letter UVA fans received this week.

It's donation time boys and girls!

Sure the economy is terrible. 

Sure the football and basketball programs are in last place.

Sure Virginia has reworked its loyalty system to punish those without trust funds.

It's okay though, Littlepage recognizes there is a problem!

He is not blind to the frustration Virginia fans feel and he wants to fix it.

He just does not know how.

Littlepage has done an outstanding job finding quality coaches for Virginia's 25 programs.

He has been quick to axe those he believe are under-performing and bring in some high caliber choices to turn programs around.

Let's be honest—baseball's Brian O'Connor, tennis's Brian Boland, both lacrosse coaches Dom Starsia and Julie Myers are some of the best coaches in the country in their respective sports.

However, for all the high standards Littlepage has demanded on his olympic sports, he has shown an extreme amount of patience for the revenue sports.

Take Mr. Pete Gillen for instance.

Virginia's basketball coach made the NCAA tournament in his third year, losing in the first round in the last minute to Gonzaga, and his reward was a 10-year extension.

Wow, I guess we really like our crowning achievements.

With such a high buy-out, Gillen was allowed to stay a few more years, most noticeably in 2004-05 when Todd Billet single-handedly won three games in the ACC to save him for one more dismal year.

Now, patience is certainly not always a bad thing.  Sometimes coaches need time to turn things around.  They must grow and evolve like the program itself.

It is a risk that you have to take.

I do feel for Littlepage—many fans still want to rake him over the coals for failing to get current Minnesota head basketball coach Tubby Smith—but he really did all he could.  If offering him a significant pay raise is not enough, what else can he do?

The position of athletic director is often thankless but the truth is, when times are tough, it is not the time to run away and hide.

Littlepage ducked an interview earlier this year with Roanoke Times writer Doug Doughty.  Now his first statement in months comes moments before donations are due.

Mr. Littlepage, fans certainly expect results much like you say, but we also expect accountability.   

I understand that your role is meant to be in the shadows at times.  I admit that the AD should not upstage the coaches, but people need to hear you tell them these things.

Don't pawn it off in a letter that your secretary could have easily written.

Your administration has made some questionable decisions over this athletic season:

1. The no-sign policy at Scott Stadium which you eventually lifted when the team started playing well.

2. The seat re-distribution policy which has emphasized money over loyalty.

3. The Pete Lalich debacle and its conflicting reports at different times.  No one knew what was going on.

4. Waiting over two weeks to deal with Al Groh's future at UVA and refusing to comment on it.  That hurts recruiting.

Littlepage once stood up in front of the national media and took a big hit when he was chairman of the NCAA Selection Committee.

This was the year controversial pick George Mason entered the tournament knowing their star player would be suspended for the first round.  Billy Packer ripped Littlepage apart before the Patriots surprised everyone on their way to the Final Four.

Everyone thought Littlepage and company were crazy then but not anymore.

Well sir, I think it is time to stand up once again and defend your decisions.

They may in fact turn out to be the right ones, but endorsements should not come with a letter posted on 

Virginia athletics can blame the economy all they want, but having faith in the stock market is far less important than having faith in their athletic director.


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