FERGUSON: Elevate Virginia tailgating

To build a stronger community, Virginia needs to look towards Ole Miss

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While Virginia football may not win every game this season or in seasons after, we can do our best to make attending games — win or lose — the best experience possible by rethinking the tailgating landscape. 

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

As the University reinvests in its football program, Virginia fans have already come to expect more from the Cavaliers. After defeating the University of South Carolina in the Belk Bowl last season 28-0 and a solid start to this year with victories over the University of Pittsburgh, William and Mary and Florida State — which saw the largest crowd since 2015 for a Saturday game — Wahoos are cautiously optimistic that Virginia football has moved past its darkest days. However, victory is never certain. The Cavaliers can expect especially tough competition as the season progresses from Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. 

While Virginia football may not win every game this season or in seasons after, we can do our best to make attending games — win or lose — the best experience possible by rethinking the tailgating landscape. Currently, tailgates spread across the parking lots around Scott Stadium to other parts of Grounds. I have personally even tailgated at a laundromat parking lot off Alderman Road. Creating a space in which the entire University community can come together to enjoy cookouts and conversation before the start of football games would foster a culture supportive of Virginia football and the community of Cavalier fans. The University should look to The Grove at Ole Miss and replicate its success in creating a landscape that fosters support for its football program while bringing various members of the Ole Miss community together. 

The Grove serves as the focal point for Ole Miss football tailgates. The ten-acre green space near Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. welcomes thousands of Rebel fans before home football games to share in what Bleacher Report calls “the tailgating mecca.” The atmosphere encourages students, parents, alumni and others to come together to support Mississippi football in a family-friendly atmosphere. Following a similar model here would strengthen the football culture at the University and the community of Cavalier fans.  

Currently, blacktop parking lots surround much of Scott Stadium. While providing parking remains important to keep the stadium accessible, the amount of space devoted to cars fails to use the land as efficiently as possible. Examining the stadium landscape from an urban planning perspective would help the University realize the missed opportunities that an excess of parking lots causes. The prioritization of cars over people remains an issue in cities and towns across America. The land allotment around Scott Stadium mirrors these detrimental trends — albeit at a smaller scale. 

The consensus among many urban planners and landscape architects concerning the amount of land that parking lots consume remains consistent — the amount of space devoted to parking in many cities robs communities of other amenities. In the case of the University, it robs us of a better tailgating spot. Consolidating parking into garages would use a fraction of the land the current lots occupy and provide availability for a green space to host tailgates before football games. 

While the University strives to make improvements in several areas, ways to foster community must remain at the forefront of students’ and administrators’ concerns. Despite the fact that almost 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the University — each with their own interests and backgrounds — events like tailgates and football games allow for unity and camaraderie. 

Creating a better space for tailgating would also support the social functions of student organizations at the University. Greek life, club sports teams, faith-based fellowships and other organizations play a vital role in helping students find and build community. The University administration must actively support student organizations and the role they play in students’ lives — and look for every opportunity to strengthen their role in fostering community. Such steps include allowing for student clubs to reserve spaces to hold tailgates for their members and others. 

Certain administrators may feel weary at the prospect of furthering the University's reputation as a “party school.” However, the students have demonstrated they can celebrate their school and its athletic accomplishments without devolving into destructive behavior. The nation watched the Cavaliers win the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championships last year, and the University community’s example of behavior differed greatly from other institutions

As one Rebel fan put it, “We never lose a party here at Ole Miss.” The University should take note of that sentiment and pursue excellence not only in our academics and athletics but also in our support of Virginia football and our community building. 

Tom Ferguson is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at t.ferguson@cavalierdaily.com.

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