- - Friday, April 6, 2012

College football’s newest trend comes to Richmond on Saturday when the University of Virginia holds a practice at Sports Backers Stadium at 3 p.m.

Coach Mike London was a pioneer in moving spring workouts to off-campus sites. This is his third year of hitting the road and ACC schools are following suit.

It’s another expenditure in the arms race among top schools, and today’s workout won’t come cheap. The Times-Dispatch learned that the Cavaliers spent about $41,000 for their recent practice at Fairfax High School. They also held one at Christopher Newport University last weekend.

The workout is free to fans, with London asking everyone to bring a canned food donation.

One positive for today’s attendees is that the Wahoos are one week away from their spring game, and London said the second hour of today’s practice would be a dress rehearsal for that event, which should mean plenty of 11-on-11 action.

North Carolina was the latest to join the trend, holding a practice in Charlotte on Thursday. NCAA rules permit schools to hold a practice inside their state, or in other states if the site is within 100 miles of campus. The SEC has a conference rule banning off-site workouts, but the ACC does not.

London and his staff gave three main benefits to justify the road show, saying it helps with recruiting, energizes the fan base and prepares the team for road games in the future.

That’s because the trip is treated like a road game. For the 1 p.m. practice in Fairfax, Va., the team’s 105 players arrived the night before, stayed in a hotel and conducted meetings there.

“Who knows? Maybe it helped us be a road team last year,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said of Virginia’s 4-1 road record. “I think it all lends itself to being a college football player, which is, you have to adjust and adapt and focus on what happens on the field.”

Saturday’s practice will be slightly different from the others, as the team will arrive in the morning.

Adding three weekend trips is another benefit the staff can tout while recruiting. In addition, moving practices around the state allows recruits to know they’ll get to show off in front of a hometown crowd during college.

While another part of the push is to get top high school talent out to watch the Cavaliers, the staff is not allowed to have contact with those players. They can come out, watch and observe, but not chat with U.Va. coaches.

London says it’s still a great opportunity to show potential players what the coaching style is like.

For the fans, it’s an opportunity to connect with the team. There will be giveaways, including free t-shirts for the first 1,000 fans, inflatable games and an autograph session after the practice.

“It’s a good opportunity for some of the areas that touch our program, to get out and see people,” London said. “It was a no-brainer for us.”

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