The view from the stands
UPDATE: Virginia Athletics has reached out and said that the basketball team’s academic advisor was not on the bench during the ACC Tournament.
The Virginia men’s basketball season has been nothing short of thrilling — a regular season conference title along with the tournament title has given Cavalier fans much to cheer about. Perhaps the most appealing thing about this team is the fact that they play as a team — there are no big stars, they make the extra passes and get the job done no matter who gets the credit.
However, throughout the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, the entire team has not been accounted for.
Four players — Jeff Jones, Caid Kirven, Rob Vozenilek and Maleek Frazier — have had to give up their seats on the bench and instead sit in the stands in favor of administrators for Virginia’s first postseason in recent history. The past few years during the ACC and NCAA tournaments, all Virginia players dressed and sat with their team.
What’s the difference between this year and those past?
This is the one of the best season the Hoos have had in recent history. It seems as if people are finally starting to jump on the bandwagon and some have even managed to work their way onto the bench.
In football, just like in basketball, not everyone gets to travel to away games due to logistics. But when football teams earn a bowl game berth, the whole team is rewarded and gets to travel and dress for the game. This was also the case for the basketball team in 2012, when the team made the NCAA Tournament, and during previous ACC Tournaments.
During the 2014 ACC Tournament, one of the academic coordinators sat on the bench in favor of one of the players. In fact, the games were this person’s first on the bench all year.
Jones, Vozenilek and Frazier were instead forced to enjoy a moment of Virginia basketball history that they worked all season to help create from the stands.
Unless the academic coordinator was giving the players academic advice during the game, he should not have been on the bench.
And not only did administrators get to witness the Cavaliers beat Duke to win the conference championship, but a James Madison student was there as well.
The JMU sophomore was able to get onto the floor and watch the game courtside because he dressed up in a suit and “looked the part.” He allegedly walked down to the floor without a court pass — but with a suit, tie and confidence — and security granted him access.
He watched the entire game courtside and even joined the team’s huddle during timeouts. He celebrated with the Virginia players after the game and was given a championship T-shirt and hat before being sent back into the stands.
If there was enough room for this guy to be down on the court, then you would think that three more of the players could have dressed.
The day-to-day grind of preparing the starters and providing good scout teams cannot be overlooked. The Cavaliers might not be in this situation had these four players not helped the starters prepare for opponents. They have practiced six days a week since November to get to this point — and now they get to enjoy it from the stands?
They should be on the floor enjoying this moment with their teammates.
The ACC Tournament allows 21 people to sit on the bench. With five players on the court, eight are left to sit on the bench along with 13 non-players — including coach Tony Bennett, four assistant coaches, the director of basketball operations, the strength coach, a graduate assistant, a doctor, an academic coordinator and three managers.
The NCAA Tournament permits only 17 people on the bench. Kirven, who sat on the bench for the ACC Tournament, was moved off the bench into the stands, as well as two managers and the academic coordinator.
Aside from the academic coordinator, if two managers were expendable for the NCAA Tournament, why did they need three for the ACC Tournament?
Obviously, these student managers have also been working hard to earn a spot on the bench. But the difference is managers get paid, rather than the players who play for the love of the game.
For home games, there are 19 seats on the bench. All of the players get to dress for home games — but the three managers, the academic coordinator and the graduate assistant sit right behind the bench.
Duke put their managers behind the bench during the ACC Tournament to allow room for all of the players. The Blue Devil managers instead sat on the timeout stools brought out for players to sit on during timeouts. Why couldn’t Virginia do something like this?
Jones, Vozenilek and Frazier have already had to watch the ACC championship game from the stands. What if the team makes it to the NCAA championship? Will these three players and Kirven have to witness their team win another championship from the stands?
No. They should be dressed and ready for the Sweet 16 this Friday against Michigan State . They should be together as a team — because the best part about Virginia basketball is that they truly are one.
James Coleman is a guest columnist and a sophomore punter on the Virginia football team.