As a student with a direct affiliation with the University of Virginia, I am committing a cardinal sin in proclaiming any sort of excellence from Virginia Tech.
But I speak honestly and sincerely when I can do little but sing the praises of those Hokies. Tech's not the better school, but it sure knows how to put on a show. On Saturday, in a ho-hum game that made me pull teeth, Virginia Tech fans showed the Commonwealth why Blacksburg remains the sports capital of Virginia.
Virginia may claim marginally better results in the Directors' Cup, but Tech wins the sports that matter (fact: Stanford, which has a solid-to-great football program and a prestigious basketball program, usually finishes top in the Cup, which adds to the fire of Virginia's futility in the major sports. However, this argument is for another article). Grossly exaggerating, two college sports bring in substantial revenue: football and basketball. Tech is better than UVA in both of those sports. This phenomenon has perpetuated to other parts of the sports dynamic of these two schools.
In laymen's terms, as my colleagues Ben Gibson and Dan Stalcup have previously mentioned or insinuated, Virginia fans need to improve. Growing up as a USC football fan and an Eagles die-hard, I feel suited to judge that Cavaliers sports fans lack the passion that fans of other schools have.
As a columnist, this sort of written commentary is out of my comfort zone. I'm definitely more comfortable writing about the Cavaliers's general dependency on Mike Scott and Sylven Landesburg versus Tech, the exposing of our shot-contingent offense with a poor-shooting night, confidence issues, and help-side defense problems in the second half.
But as Virginia sports grow on me, I feel compelled to write a call-to-action, because Virginia sports deserve better fans. We cannot expect excellence on the field if we fans do not show excellence ourselves.
When the opportunity arises for all Virginia students to attend the Wake Forest basketball game for free without a SHOTS ticket, you weather the snow and go to the game. Fans would at Duke and UCLA, and you should at UVA.
Although around 8,000 fans attended that game, which is a commendable figure, it was nowhere near enough. The sheer fact that I encountered so many people consciously choosing not to attend the game fuels my anger.
A respected program consists of two aspects: a great team and passionate fans. The two aspects are interdependent, as a great program leaves no lasting impression without great fans.
Duke is a great program because its fans extend the players' excellence. Same applies at Kansas and other top-brand programs.
Consequently, we can't expect winning teams if we don't act like winning fans.
Although Virginia Tech will never be a basketball school, or a top basketball program (although that could be debated if Seth Greenberg offered Stephen Curry a scholarship), I came away with an extremely positive impression of Virginia Tech fans after Saturday's game from my TV-constrained perspective.
I will acknowledge I am not well-versed, or experienced, in the rivalry. As an out-of-state first-year who did not attend the Thanksgiving weekend football game in Charlottesville, I have little exposure to Tech fans first-hand (although I defend myself by stating that I instead attended the USC-UCLA demolition job back home) and find myself caring little about the rivalry.
I'm naturally inclined to dislike Virginia Tech, but I look at their sports excellence with admiration and their fans with respect.
Tech's "blackout" seems more ferocious than Virginia "orange-out", and Tech's passion during the game seems more ferocious than Virginia's passion during football and basketball games.
I don't appreciate being asked to shut up while cheering and screaming for the Cavaliers against Wake Forest by fellow Virginia fans. That would never happen at Tech.
Essentially, Virginia Tech executed better on the court in the second half of Saturday's game, and their fans executed better in the stands compared to the game in Charlottesville.
Execution has a knack for making up for a lack of talent, whether it be athletic or academic.
Anyways, although the Tech basketball program waned in support in the 1990s due to their unstable conference situation, Cassell Coliseum fills up regularly now, compared to the regularly-empty John Paul Jones Arena (Lane Stadium brings little comparison).
Virginia can continue to excel at niche college sports and achieve "Uncompromised Excellence" if it holds at the status quo.
Nonetheless, I don't want to just be good at swimming, tennis, golf, soccer, volleyball, or baseball. I don't care if Virginia wins the Commonwealth Challenge every single year.
The only sports that command national respect are football and basketball, and Tech is better at both.
I end my argument about Virginia fans with this point: As Virginia fans, we don't want to feed buffoons like Colin Cowherd with material against us. Folks like him can bash us for our players and our teams, but never our fans. His ability to formulate a justified argument against us should give us impetus to improve as Virginia sports fans.
Virginia basketball this year has peaked under Coach Bennett, and postseason play is a stretch at this point. Nonetheless, we must support the Cavaliers even when they have nothing to play for. We must make Virginia a school with a distinguished sports reputation—contingent on our success as a program and as passionate fans, and not our Southern traditions.
From an analytical and tactical perspective, I see a Virginia basketball team that, at a macro level, varies in confidence. Obviously this follows the ebbs and flows of the game, but fans contribute to this too. Loud fans influence games, inspire home team confidence and create a culture of winning.
As stated so many times previously, we cannot expect a culture of winning if it isn't there. Therefore, we must start from ground-zero and create one—that starts with us.
As my colleague Ben Gibson so eloquently stated in a previous article, "It is time to do our part in turning around [our] programs." Victory has a way of feeding itself, we must achieve victory as fans before we declare victory as a sports program and sports school.