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UVa. football, men’s hoops teams struggle while other sports thrive
Duke is another school that consistently achieves on and off the field. While carrying the most rigorous academic reputation in the ACC, Duke finished fifth in the latest Directors’ Cup standings, tops of any school in the conference. That result came despite the lack of any national titles this past year, meaning its point total stemmed from solid seasons by nearly all of its teams.
While the Blue Devils continue to struggle on the football field, they at least get to enjoy the consistent success of one revenue sport. Duke stands as the fourth-winningest basketball program in America, thanks mostly to its legendary 31-year coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Like London and Bennett, Coach K did not begin winning right away. The establishment of a perennial national title contender took many years, as his first three seasons at the helm came with losing conference records.
And like the coaches at Virginia, Krzyzewski and the rest of the Duke athletic department always have used high academic standards as a pulling point for recruits rather than a deterrent.
“From the conversations I have with coaches here, it’s a draw,” said Jon Jackson, associate athletic director at Duke. “Parents like to know that their children have opportunities, and the opportunity to get a quality degree from a school such as Duke is a pretty powerful thing. It’s like anything: If you achieve success by doing it a certain way, all of a sudden those types of kids might gravitate towards your school.”
What lies ahead
The recent past has been agonizing for Virginia’s football and basketball teams, but many followers of the programs are finding more reasons to feel hopeful. The entrenchment of new coaches and higher-caliber recruits suggests the school’s two most popular teams can only move upward. Moreover, the achievements of the school’s nonrevenue sports in the face of adversity should serve as further inspiration to reach great heights. Sports such as men’s tennis, men’s track and field, wrestling, swimming and diving, and baseball were at risk of being cut 10 years ago. Now they are the cornerstone of an athletic department whose strength rests in the hands of its Olympic sports.
At schools such as Stanford and Duke, winning breeds winning. Once a reliable formula is established, coaches can find the kind of consistency that cultivates a winning environment.
“It’s just kind of the culture that’s in place,” said Duke’s Jackson. “And the culture here has been one of uncompromising standards. We expect that our kids are going to be successful athletically, in the classroom and in the community and represent their school and represent themselves and their families in a way that they would want to be represented.”
Until such a culture re-emerges, though, football and basketball players at Virginia will live in the shadow of teams that have risen from near extinction to national spotlight.
“You can’t really ignore it; it’s the truth,” senior wide receiver Kris Burd said. “We need to pick it up, honestly. I feel like they’re representing Virginia in the way Virginia needs to be represented. It’s always in the back of your head when you see them compete for championships. You think to yourself, ‘The time is now.’”
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