By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the first Thursday night game at Scott Stadum in six years, UVa will face a North Carolina football team that features one of the nation’s most potent offenses and, in tailback Giovani Bernard, one of the nation’s most explosive players.
The group charged with making sure the game comes off smoothly — the UVa athletics department — faces a daunting task, too, as it deals with a myriad of logistical challenges.
“We’re talking about an institution of higher learning that has a full operation going on during the day,” said Jon Oliver, executive associate director of athletics.
“We can’t expect the University to change how it operates on that day, so we’re limited in terms of what we can do, as compared to our normal operation on game day, which would be a Saturday. It’s challenging.”
The key is communication, said Jason Bauman, UVa’s associate athletics director for facilities and operations. In planning for Thursday night’s game, Bauman, Oliver and athletics director Craig Littlepage have met with many University departments typically not directly involved with football game operations, to be able to address concerns and mitigate the impact of the game.
Classes will be held as scheduled Thursday, and patient care in the UVa Health System will not be interrupted.
“We’re communicating to members of the University typically not directly impacted by football games,” Bauman said. “We want them to be able to do their jobs.
“We want to understand their needs, so we can build that into the plan. It’s a University business day, so we need to maintain those operations and then transition to a football game that afternoon. The football pre-game operations are compressed into a couple hours.”
Parking poses one of the greatest challenges. In most University lots, employees will be asked to remove their cars by 4 p.m. Thursday. By 5:30 p.m., Bauman said, traditional game-day parking options will be available for fans. Due to road closures for the game, University bus service will be modified.
With employees leaving and fans arriving, traffic problems may arise Thursday, and so the athletics department is trying to make all parties aware of potential issues.
“We understand that it might create some hardships for fans,” Oliver said, “but we’re doing the best we can to try and make it so that we can get this game pulled off, because let’s not forget: It’s a great opportunity for us to be on a national stage.”
Nobody has to remind UVa’s players of that fact.
“Thursday night, ESPN prime time, it really doesn’t get much better than this,” linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said Monday.
“The energy’s going to be there, the passion’s going to be there, and the effort’s definitely going to be there.”
Reynolds is among the seniors who will be honored Thursday night before UVa’s final home game. He’s hoping to end his college career in a bowl, and for that to happen, the Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4 ACC) must win their final two regular-season games. (Virginia closes the regular season Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech.)
“We hope our fans will come out and support this football team as they try to get an important win for us,” Oliver said. “We know how important this game is, and we apologize for any level of inconvenience, and we’re doing the best we can. But there are restrictions that the University has in terms of what they can make available, in terms of lots and things like that, so we’re doing everything we can to communicate with people so they know what’s possible.”
UVa has been part of ESPN’s Thursday night showcase 11 times, starting in 1991. A season ago, Virginia won 28-21 at ACC rival Miami on a Thursday night, a victory that earned coach Mike London’s program much-needed national recognition.
At Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers’ record in Thursday night games on ESPN is 3-1. The most notable of those victories, of course, was the 33-28 upset of No. 2 Florida State on Nov. 2, 1995, FSU’s first-ever ACC loss. Most recently, UVa blanked UNC 23-0 on Oct. 19, 2006.
“We kept notes from that game,” Bauman said, “and we’ve looked back at what’s different now than in 2006.”
Some schools, Bauman noted, decline to host weekday games, for various reasons. UVa officials like the national exposure that ESPN gives programs that appear in its Thursday night games. But don’t expect to see a Thursday night game become an annual event at Scott Stadium.
“I would tell you this,” Oliver said, “we appreciate the opportunity the ACC and ESPN have given us to play on this stage, but I would be very concerned if we were playing every year on Thursday night. I think it creates a lot of challenges for our kids academically, for our fans coming to games, and it puts a lot of logistical pressure on the University.”