One year ago, Virginia fans were frustrated over the disappointing start to the Cavaliers season.
UVA was embarrassed on the road against the Wyoming Cowboys in a game where they could only muster a meager 3 points. Then they survived an unexpectedly close game at home against Duke. Little did most people expect the Cavaliers would go on to an impressive 9-win season and its first New Years Day bowl of the Al Groh era.
Well sorry Cinderella, but there is no miracle in store for the Cavaliers in 2008.
Virginia quarterback Pete Lalich, who was recently put on probation a few months ago for underage possession and illegal purchasing of alcohol will not be making the trip to UConn this weekend. In his place, Marc Verica, a sophomore with virtually zero experience will go on the road to face a Huskie team that has yet to give up a touchdown this season.
The timing of this decision certainly is odd. The Daily Progress leaked last week that Lalich had violated the terms of his probation, alluding to smoking marijuana or some other drug. However, Lalich denied those allegations on Tuesday and Groh went after the media after the Richmond game and again in his press conference.
It seemed the team was rallying around their quarterback, a young guy who has talent and was slowly becoming acclimated to the pressure of being a starter in a major conference.
So imagine his surprise, as well as most fans, when it was announced Lalich would not be making the trip.
"We have a strong set of standards and values on our team that reflect those of the university, and we do not compromise those values to win football games," Groh said to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
I guess that can't really be argued. Virginia has had some serious attrition in 2008. Some of the losses were expected like future NFL stars Chris Long and Branden Albert, but the departure of Jameel Sewell, Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Mike Brown were big and unexpected blows to the progress of this team.
However, if Groh is right and Virginia football does not compromise its values, why did he wait until after the Richmond game to make this move? The news came out prior to the date with the Spiders and yet Lalich played with full blessing from the coach and his teammates.
Well perhaps Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage can shine some light on this situation.
"The past 24 hours I've had conversations with both Peter and Coach Groh. The focus of our discussions shifted from due process and fairness and moved toward what would be best for Peter and the team, at least until such time that matters were cleared up about his probation status," Littlepage commented to the Virginia press.
A "shift away from due process and fairness"? Call me crazy but I think Craig Littlepage and the Virginia athletic program needs to brush up on its Constitution.
First, there was the controversy over the no-sign policy which even got national writers like ESPN's Rick Reilly involved. Sure some people will argue it is not a violation of free speech because it bans "all" signs and not just the ambiguous terms like "offensive" or "vulgar", but let's be honest, it is still spitting in the face of freedom and creating an unnecessarily sterile football environment.
Now if Lalich has violated probation then he surely should be punished. However, it would be a different story if he admitted his wrong doing. If a man, in any capacity, denies an allegation he should be allowed due process. Now I do agree if he is found guilty, kick him off the team. Lalich has lost his right to be here, but denying him a basic human freedom is just more signs that the Virginia program is embarrassing its alumni.
2008 may be the year people remember head coach Al Groh lost complete control of his program and perhaps his job. After all, it was a lopsided 2005 home loss to eventual national champions North Carolina that eventually cost former Cavalier basketball coach Pete Gillen his job, could USC and former colleague Pete Caroll let history repeat itself?
However, the problems in Hooville are not just limited to its head coach.
Don't get me wrong, despite his 2007 ACC Coach of the Year trophy Groh has not lived up to his billing of bringing Virginia to that "next level." Groh can claim victories over Miami, FSU, VT, West Virginia, Clemson and Penn State. He can also claim losses to Western Michigan, Wyoming and deflating blowouts to the Hokies for more years than Cavalier fans want to remember.
Virginia still continues to struggle against teams it should be comfortably like Richmond or Middle Tennessee State and, in their season opener, we all saw just how big the talent gap is between the Cavaliers and the top team in the country.
In all honesty, Groh's problems can be traced back to losing offensive coordinator Ron Prince to Kansas State. I'm not saying Prince was some offensive genius, but his loss required Groh to make one very questionable decision: making his son, Mike, offensive coordinator.
Since Mike Groh took over, Virginia's offense has been one of the worst in the country. It has been a ridiculous amount of pressure on the Cavalier defense and, as the Baltimore Ravens proved, defense can win a championship but it cannot earn consistency.
Still, despite all these problems, I do not just blame Groh.
Littlepage and most likely, UVA's President himself, John Casteen (former President of UConn), have mired the program with an inconsistent vision of the program.
Both of these men want a top-tier program but are not willing to put in the time and effort to help make this happen.
Most fans still mutter that Virginia would be much better at recruiting if it could offer greyshirts. They do not see it as hurting the academic integrity of the institution. The "Powers That Be" disagree.
I must admit I can see both sides of this issue but it is just one of many decisions fans see as an abandonment by the administration towards winning and creating a great program towards creating a profit.
The L.A. Clippers model if you will.
The "no sign" policy.
Casteen's statement saying that the UVA-VT rivalry is merely "jocular".
Honoring Hokie Bruce Smith at the halftime of a UVA home game.
The new seating policy that has displaced several long-time donors.
The academic attrition also makes it appear from the outside that UVA is not doing enough to protect the student-athletes in Charlottesville.
I don't know what the future holds for the Cavaliers this season, but I know that one day Al Groh will be eventually fired.
I just believe if Virginia ever wants to retain the success they had under former head coach and Hall of Famer George Welsh, they should really take a look at the people that forced him into retirement.
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