Nine games into the Mike London era, UVA Football is already on the upswing with a 4-5 record and a win over a ranked University of Miami squad. Lackluster home attendance, however, is enough to ask whether Hoos fans appreciate the difference.
For the victory against Eastern Michigan, the Wahoos reportedly drew 37,386; in actuality, there were fewer than 25,000 butts in seats for that contest.
When London was hired as head coach in December of 2009, he faced a daunting task: In addition to selling himself, he needed to sell the UVA program to its fans, many of whom had grown tired of embarrassingly bad, bowl-less seasons.
UVA’s season tickets totals are down, and attendance is way off. In 2009, Virginia sold 30,417 season tickets. This season, UVA only sold 27,616, nearly 10 percent fewer than last season. In the early 2000s, the Hoos regularly sold nearly 40,000 season passes.
To date in 2010, home attendance has averaged 45,429—which is not really accurate, since UVA counts season ticket holders, whether they are present or not. For the victory against Eastern Michigan, the Wahoos reportedly drew 37,386; in actuality, there were fewer than 25,000 butts in seats for that contest. Granted, a rebuilding team is going to draw less for games against Richmond, Virginia Military Institute, and Eastern Michigan than for contests with University of Southern California, Texas, or Virginia Tech. But how can you explain only 50,830 fans on a picture-perfect day for a homecoming game against North Carolina? Bad economy? Fans going fishing?
Down the road a bit in Blacksburg, the 6-2 Hokies announced complete sellouts for all five of their homes games this season. Yes, the Hokies were a preseason Top 10 team, and the Hoos were picked dead last in the Coastal Division by the pundits, but Hokie fans continued to fill Lane Stadium every week, even after a home loss to Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school James Madison University in week two.
Football-wise, London is rebuilding a program from top to bottom. After George Welsh and Al Groh each struggled early, it’s fair to say it will take time to get the Hoos back in the Top 25.
After eight games the Hoos are ranked eighth in the Atlantic Coastal Conference both in scoring offense and scoring defense, and 11th in rushing defense, having given up 1,659 yards on the ground. As for bright spots, Senior tailback Keith Payne leads the league in rushing touchdowns, and kick returner Raynard Horne reigns supreme with an incredible 26.7 yards per return and a touchdown.
Virginia has one more home game, a November 13 battle against conference rival University of Maryland. (Kickoff is at 3:30pm.) The Hoos also have a road game at Boston College, along with the ever-difficult trip to Blacksburg to meet the Virginia Tech Hokies on November 27. All of the games are winnable for the Hoos, but Virginia has struggled on the road for the past 50 years, and has, incredibly, lost to Duke three times in a row.
The Hoos need to win seven games instead of the customary six to go bowling, since they played two FCS teams this season. A 5-7 finish is more likely, with a win coming against Maryland at home this week. But more wins than last season is a huge success for London, no matter the number in the stands.