By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Since the end of the 2006 season, UVa’s football team has played in eight games that were shown on ESPN or ESPN2 — three in 2007, three in ’08 and two in ’09.
The Cavaliers’ next appearance comes Saturday. At noon, UVa (0-3, 3-4) hosts Miami (3-1, 5-2) in an ACC game that ESPN will broadcast.
Not since Oct. 19, 2006, have the Wahoos been showcased in ESPN’s Thursday night game. So the exposure his program will receive Saturday, first-year coach Mike London said, is valuable as his rebuilding project continues.
“It’s always a big deal when you’re on television, particularly the package that the ACC has with ESPN, and it’s nationally televised,” London said Wednesday on the weekly ACC coaches’ teleconference.
“You’re going to be auditioning for or playing in front of potential prospects that you’ve been writing or calling, and now they get a chance to see you up close and personal in terms of watching you on TV, and having a good showing, being competitive, can only help you.
“On the other side, if you’re not very competitive and you don’t do well, it may hurt you. But it’s a risk/reward [scenario]. If you play well, people see you.”
In its broadcast, London said, ESPN will “show the Grounds [and] talk about Virginia here a little bit. That’s something that letters and sometimes phone calls can’t afford you. So television exposure and the opportunity are very, very important, and this game is important for us in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.”
In December, London took over a program that finished with a winning record only once in predecessor Al Groh’s final four seasons. That was in 2007, when the Wahoos went 9-4.
Since then, attendance has steadily declined at Scott Stadium, and the figure dipped to 37,386 for UVa’s game against Eastern Michigan last weekend. That was the smallest crowd for a Virginia game since the stadium’s capacity was expanded to 61,500 before the 2000 season.
On the ACC coaches’ teleconference, a Roanoke radio host asked if London had a message for UVa fans. London didn’t hesitate.
When “you’re taking over a program and you’re trying to build a program, it’s important that people show up and come out,” he said.
“Recruits still come to our games, because they want to see [if] they can see themselves playing here. They want to see what kind of atmosphere it is. So it’s important that the fan base come out and show them that they support the team, regardless of the [Cavaliers’ struggles].
In his 10-plus months on the job, London said, “I’ve gone around all over the place, all over the state, within our own school, with different student organizations, in the community, [saying], ‘Hey, just keep coming out and supporting the team, we need your help, we need your voice,’ and hopefully it’ll pay off.
“That’s the message. We’re a program that’s building, and I want the fans to feel part of the process of building with us this year and then for the years to come.”
Only two home games remain for the ‘Hoos this season, Saturday against Miami and Nov. 13 against Maryland.