At one point or another, every Virginia sports fan wonders what perks go with wearing the orange and blue. These are big-time college sports, so there must be some big-time fringe benefits, right?
No one in the program gets a fully-loaded Lexus, but there are some small things the student-athlete receives in return for all the hard work.
Whether it's granting access to exclusive, high-quality facilities or cooking a catered meal, the University makes sure to take care of its athletes in and out of season.
Most perks are a result of a web of circumstances that make the student-athlete different from the regular student: busy schedules, time constraints of athletes, NCAA requirements and regulations and, of course, the University's desire to keep its athletes as happy and comfortable as possible. But often, athletic benefits are simply a matter of necessity.
"The NCAA controls everything," Virginia Athletics Director Terry Holland said. "They've tried as much as possible to remove the lines between athletes and regular students. But there just are time demands."
Naturally, the University's athletes are given access to special facilities and equipment at University Hall and the McCue Center, which normally are not open to other students. Varsity athletes lift weights and condition at the U-Hall gym, where they can find apparatus similar to that of the Aquatic Fitness Center, but without the crowds. The football team has its own weight room at McCue that is a cut above any other on Grounds.
"There's not as much electrical equipment as there is at the AFC," senior lacrosse player Jamison Mullen said of the gym at U-Hall. "But it's never crowded, and we can go really anytime we want to."
Student-athletes also can use different health facilities than regular students. Rather than make appointments at Elson Student Health Center, they have their own health center at McCue. When athletes come down with a cold, they don't have to wait in lines and can be sure to see a doctor rather than a nurse practitioner or medical student.
One of the top perks, according to many athletes, comes in the form of academic assistance. Because a varsity sport can take its toll on a student's study time, the University usually provides student-athletes with tutors free of charge for individual courses. Often that tutor happens to be a teacher's assistant in the particular course.
"Tutoring is huge," Mullen said. "You can get a tutor for basically anything. And free academic advice might be the most important thing we get."
There are also some matters of comfort that go hand in hand with playing a high-profile sport like football or basketball. The basketball team, for example, has a lounge in its locker room fully equipped with leather couches and an entertainment system.
"There are some nice sofas and some nice TVs," junior basketball player Telisha Quarles said. "It's some top-of-the-line stuff. They try to make us feel comfortable."
The football and basketball teams also have a high number of catered dinners during their seasons, and all varsity sports have a monthly banquet at U-Hall where they can dine on quality food.
And it's always nice to have gear. With Reebok as an official sponsor for University sports, athletes receive new quality apparel. There are the standard t-shirts, shoes and hats, as well as more pricey windbreakers and jackets.
However, all these benefits and perks may be in jeopardy. Carolyn Callahan, the University's faculty representative to the athletics department, warned the Board of Visitors Friday that the University's athletics programs will be $44 million in debt by 2010, and benefits for student athletes may be involved in the depletion of funds.
Not that anybody could ever take away the most important benefits, which are often intangible. As senior track athlete Ray Lian said of athletic comradery, "It's like a separate fraternity in a way."
After all, nobody works that hard for a free pair of shoes.