Why Beating UVA Matters

As the 104th edition of the Commonwealth Cup approaches, a look back at how history has molded Virginia Tech and UVA — and why football will always matter more in Blacksburg.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

There was a seminal moment of divergence between the athletic programs at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

The date was Dec. 4, 1953. That was when UVA was admitted to the Atlantic Coast Conference, becoming the league's eighth member.

Independent since 1937, UVA beat out Virginia Tech and West Virginia for the final slot in the new league, joining the seven schools who seceded from the Southern Conference six months earlier. The move put the Cavaliers on equal footing with the likes of UNC, NC State, and Maryland.

Ironically enough, UVA president Colgate Darden opposed the transition, having long been a critic of subsidized college football. But the Virginia Board of Visitors won out, enticed by the prospect of increased money and prestige.

Though UVA was surely overjoyed to be in the ACC, their football program was not better for it. In the three decades following 1953, Virginia had just two winning seasons. Between 1958 and 1960, the Cavaliers lost 28 straight games.

Central to the problem was a conflict of visions for the program. Darden wanted football at UVA to be secondary to education. He did not believe in increased scholarships, nor paying head coaches exorbitant salaries. UVA, in essence, was playing in a big-time conference without big-time investment. And the results showed.

The problem at Virginia Tech was quite the opposite.

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