Cavs say no to signs
Students, informed of policy by e-mail, show signs of disappointment
Thursday, Aug 21, 2008 - 12:07 AM
By STEVE TROSKY
TIMES-DISPATCH SPORTS EDITOR
Virginia Tech has banned signs and banners at football and
basketball games for almost a decade. James Madison does not allow signs at its
The University of Virginia joined them on Tuesday and notified its students of the new policy by e-mail.
"I was pretty shocked," said Macon Gunter, a fourth-year English major from Charlottesville. "Of course, I spent the better part of my childhood trying to come up with witty slogans that started with 'ESPN' [for signs that might be shown on TV]."
Gunter said the ban "tempers the experience [at games] more than it enhances it, for sure. One of the truly indelible memories from my childhood was a sign at Scott Stadium that said, '29-1.'"
On that November night in 1995, Gunter saw U.Va. stun Florida State 33-28. The ACC loss was the first for the Seminoles after 29 straight wins.
"I remember so many things from that upset, tops among them the final play and that sign," Gunter said.
Ernest Washington, a fourth-year history major at U.Va., opposes the ban, too. He remembers the controversy over the "Fire Groh" sign that nearly got U.Va. student David Becker ejected from a football game at Scott Stadium last year.
"It wasn't profanity. It wasn't a threat," Washington said of Becker's sign. "I think because of what happened last year, [U.Va. is] more or less trying to protect the coach."
Robert M. O'Neil, founding director of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said the new policy addresses some of the concerns surrounding Becker's incident.
"I wouldn't say it completely removes the [free speech] issue," he said, "but it does substantially reduce the concerns that arose last year when the policy did seem directed at a viewpoint.
"It appears to me to be neutral. There are as many favorable as unfavorable signs. They're uniformly and similarly affected. It may restrict more speech, but it doesn't put a public institution on the side of messages it likes and messages it dislikes."
Athletic events are different from other events because the host institution has obligations to the visiting team, O'Neil said. If a crowd is yelling so loud that a team can't get audible signals on a football field, the announcer may warn the home crowd to keep the noise down.
Other issues could arise depending on how a sign is defined. Does it include pieces of cloth with written messages, T-shirts with messages or body-painted messages?
"People can still convey those views orally by shouting," O'Neil said. "That's clearly not a sign. I gather there's no attempt to restrict other forms of communication.
"That's why I'm anticipating some definition of the word sign."
Tom Gabbard, Virginia Tech's associate athletic director for internal affairs, is entering his 11th school year at Tech and said the policy has been enforced since his second or third year.
"It blocks the view of the people behind, and all of a sudden you end up with convention atmosphere as opposed to trying to play a football game," he said. "Invariably, what seems cute for somebody is offensive to somebody else. There are enough negatives about it that we just try to eliminate it."
Gabbard said signs are confiscated at the gate and that Tech is "95 percent successful" with stopping fans from sneaking them in. If school officials later see that a fan brought one in anyway, they usually let the fan keep it, unless it is offensive. If visiting fans want to bring a banner to Lane, Tech officials will work with them in advance and sometimes allow it.
James Madison has prohibited signs at football games for about three years, said Ty Phillips, facilities and events manager at JMU.
"It's been kind of soft, but each year we've tried to enforce it more," Phillips said. "This year, we've streamlined it to all our sports and venues, from our experiences. It's good to hear U.Va. is doing it, too. It just kind of reinforces what we're doing."
University of Richmond Athletic Director Jim Miller said UR's "unwritten policy" prohibits signs "that would generally be considered to be offensive by a reasonable person, or are interfering with people watching and enjoying the game."
VCU and William and Mary do not have written policies regarding signs.
Virginia bans fans’ signs, like ‘fire Al Groh’
By Theresa Vargas
The Washington Post
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Gone are the days when athletes at the University of Virginia could look up at cheering fans and see signs asking, “Hoos your daddy?”
The Charlottesville school, whose students are often called the Wahoos or Hoos, has banned all signs at home games. The new athletic department policy was tucked into an e-mail to students Tuesday: “Beginning this year, signs are not permitted inside athletics facilities. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Rich Murray, an athletic department spokesman, said Wednesday that the policy is “intended to support and promote sportsmanship and positive game day environment for all fans in attendance at athletic events.”
Among students, the announcement is causing some hoo-pla.
“This was the first that we’ve heard about it,” said student council President Matt Schrimper, 20. “It’s something that caught a lot of students’ eyes.”
He said that when school begins, the student council plans to ask athletic department officials why they felt the need to formalize a ban.
“The overwhelming amount of signs you will see are in overwhelming support of our athletic department and our sports teams, and it helps create an exciting environment for the students, the athletes and for all the fans,” Schrimper said. “I’ve never seen a sign that offended me in any way.”
Murray would not say what spurred the policy, only that discussion about it began last fall.
About that time, student David Becker’s sign was confiscated at Scott Stadium during a football game. It read “Fire Groh,” in reference to head football Coach Al Groh. Becker said he displayed it for most of the game, before a security worker took it without explanation. Becker then wrote the same message on another sign, which was also taken away, along with a third he scribbled on a piece of paper.
“When I asked him why he was taking it, he said, ‘Word from the athletic department,’ ” Becker said.
The rising senior added that he immediately regretted the incident. Becker describes himself as a fan who arrives at the arena gate hours before games to get a front-row seat and who makes signs encouraging basketball recruits to attend the school.
“The sign was just out of frustration,” he said. “I am a huge fan. I love Virginia athletics.”
When he saw the e-mail about the policy change, he said he couldn’t help feeling responsible.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this. I probably had something to do with this,’ ” Becker said. “I don’t want to be known as the guy whose sign caused all signs to go away. … I think when the players look up into the crowd, and they see signs rooting them on, it’s just another show of support.”
Bad sign? Cavaliers ban stadium displays
Posted to: College Football Sports
By Ed Miller
© August 21, 2008
Welcome to Scott Stadium, fans. Please check your signs - and,
some might argue, your freedom of speech - at the door.
In an e-mail sent Tuesday, University of Virginia students were informed that signs are banned at all school athletic events. Athletic department spokesman Rich Murray said the policy had been under consideration since last fall - about the time student David Becker was threatened with ejection from Scott Stadium.
Becker's offense? Displaying a sign calling for the firing of football coach Al Groh during the game against Duke on Sept. 8.
Virginia was coming off a season-opening loss to Wyoming, and Becker wasn't the only fan expressing his displeasure. Earlier that week, someone painted "Groh Must Go" on Beta Bridge near campus.
Becker was told his sign violated a policy banning signs, flags or banners that contain "derogatory comments, profanity, impede another guest's view of the field or cover any stadium signage."
Now all signs have been banned at Mr. Jefferson's university. This "content- and viewpoint-neutral" approach is actually more sound from a First Amendment standpoint than the old policy, according to Robert O'Neil, director of the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
"It does not differentiate between the derogatory and the laudatory," O'Neil said. "That is reflective of an important First Amendment principle."
On the Web site TheSabre.com, sentiment was running heavily against the new policy.
"Jefferson himself once mused, 'a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,' " wrote one fan who goes by the name Sabre Rattler.
Lucky No. 13
Aug 19, 2008
So what will become of the scholarship freed up by the departures of Will Harris and Laurynas Mikalauskas from the U.Va. basketball team?
It almost certainly will go to the very deserving Calvin Baker, a walk-on at U.Va. in 2006-07 and ‘07-08. But an administrative process must play out before the scholarship is officially available for Virginia coach Dave Leitao to award.
Leitao announced Monday night that 6-11 center Tunji Soroye was returning for a fifth year and that Mikalauskas had been dismissed from the team. Coupled with Harris’ departure—the 6-6, 245-pound forward is transferring to Albany—that gives Virginia 12 scholarship players for 2008-09, one fewer than the NCAA maximum.
Like most people who follow the program, I assumed the 13th scholarship would go to Baker, and that’s likely to happen. But when I asked today about Baker’s status, a U.Va. spokesman told me to “please be aware at this time there is no scholarship available.” So I did a little digging and learned that a procedure must be followed before Mikalauskas’ scholarship is revoked. It’ll happen eventually, but there’s more to it than simply issuing a press release saying a player no longer is on the team.
Baker, a 6-2 guard from Newport News, sat out the 2006-07 season after transferring to U.Va. from William and Mary. As a sophomore last season, he started eight games and was the Cavaliers’ fourth-leading scorer.
Virginia college soccer will be strong again
August 21, 2008
This time of year it's all about the f-word here at your
friendly neighborhood sports department.
Football this, football that.
High schools, colleges and pros. Preseason depth charts, forecasts and scrimmages.
Today, a respite. Sort of.
Today, we chat about another brand of football, European football, a.k.a, soccer. Division I colleges in our parts play it well, men and women, and this season should be no different.
On the distaff side, Virginia is the class of the state with seven final-16 appearances in the last nine NCAA tournaments. The Cavaliers are ranked sixth nationally in the preseason coaches' poll — ACC rival and 19-time NCAA champ North Carolina is third — and All-America defender Nikki Krzysik is among nine returning Virginia starters.
The Cavs' second-round NCAA victim, William and Mary, also welcomes back nine starters. Led by forward Claire Zemmeck and defender Dani Collins, the Tribe rates as the Colonial Athletic Association favorite and a postseason probable.
On the men's side, Old Dominion, Virginia Tech and Virginia look like NCAA tournament squads, the Monarchs for a seventh consecutive year, the Hokies a fourth, the Cavaliers a 27th, the nation's longest active streak.
Virginia Commonwealth could challenge ODU in the CAA, where William and Mary is picked an unusually low seventh in the coaches' poll. Meanwhile, the ACC undoubtedly will prove harrowing for Virginia Tech and Virginia.
How stacked is the ACC? Well, four league teams are among the preseason national top 10: No. 1 and defending national champion Wake Forest, No. 4 and defending conference champ Boston College, No. 8 Maryland and No. 10 Virginia Tech, a national semifinalist in 2007.
With five NCAA championships, Virginia is the ACC's most accomplished men's program. But the Cavaliers' most recent title came in 1994, and last season they were a modest 12-8-2, falling in the second round of the tournament to West Virginia.
Given the departure of top scorer and first-team all-ACC forward Yannick Reyering, improvement could hinge on two acclaimed freshmen, always risky in what is arguably the nation's premiere conference. Forward Chris Argorsor from McDonough High in suburban Baltimore was the national high school player of the year, and forward Brian Ownby from Deep Run near Richmond was the state's top prospect.
Quick aside: Former Cavaliers coach Bruce Arena, the architect of those five NCAA titles, is the new coach and general manager of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy. Soccer mavens would be wise to watch the dynamic between Arena — his previous gigs include DC United and the U.S. National team — and the Galaxy's iconic import, David Beckham. Talk about a clash of egos.
Back to the college kids: Arena's former team opens the season Aug. 29, when it hosts the Virginia Soccer Classic. The four-team field also features St. John's, Southern Methodist and ODU.
The Monarchs and Cavaliers are not scheduled to meet in the predetermined bracket, which could be a good thing for UVa. ODU advanced to the final 16 of last season's NCAA tournament and returns most of its firepower — midfielder Trevor Banks and keeper Evan Newton are the Monarchs' best.
ODU's 2007 season ended with a 1-0 NCAA loss at Virginia Tech. But lofty preseason expectations notwithstanding, this Hokies squad will bear no resemblance to last year's.
Gone are players who scored 37 of the Hokies' 51 goals. This includes All-American forward Patrick Nyarko, who bolted for Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire a year early, and defender Alexander Baden, sidelined for the year by a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.
True to form, Tech coach Oliver Weiss headed overseas to find reinforcements. Four players from Germany and three from Ghana are among the Hokies' 14 newcomers.
"These guys will be very good," Weiss told Inside Hokie Sports. "The worst thing you want to see is someone tooting their own horn and then nothing happens.
"It's hard to say (how good) because I don't know the majority of the players inside and out yet. There are challenges to making this as good of a year, or even a better year, but the potential is there for it — I can guarantee you that."