A short-lived ban on signs at Scott Stadium this fall raised the hackles of fans—particularly among students—and drew darts from pundits across the nation.
The announcement came in an e-mail to students from the athletics department before the season’s opening game: “Beginning this year, signs are not permitted inside athletics facilities. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Though many attributed the ban to an incident at last year’s Duke football game involving a student’s signs calling for the firing of head football coach Al Groh (Com ’66), the policy was actually triggered by the proliferation of signs at a variety of athletic events that blocked sight lines and were often in poor taste.
The policy was intended to “promote sportsmanship and a positive game-day environment for all fans in attendance,” said Rich Murray, a spokesman for UVA’s athletics department. Instead, the prohibition drew a hailstorm of protest, with most citing issues related to free expression and student self-governance.
“Here’s what Virginia students should do for every home game from now on,” wrote ESPN columnist Rick Reilly. “Bring signs that say nothing. Bring signs that say, ‘This Is Not a Sign.’”
Students did just that. At the Richmond game on Sept. 6, the student section was filled with blank sheets of paper, held aloft in protest.
Students devised yet another show of discontent. Instead of the “Sea of Orange” advocated by Groh and the athletics department, they would wear blue T-shirts at the televised home game against Maryland on Oct. 4.
The ban was repealed before they got a chance to turn the stadium blue. In an Oct. 2 announcement, athletics director Craig Littlepage wrote, “The policy … has become a distraction and has taken the focus away from supporting our student-athletes. Our football team needs our support right now and that should be our collective focus.”
That Saturday, the stadium flowed with orange, students waved signs and the Cavaliers blanked Maryland 31-0.