After 16 years, 76 ACC Championships, and 13 NCAA National Championships, Virginia director of athletics Craig Littlepage announced his retirement on Tuesday. He will remain in his role until a replacement is in place before transitioning to a role in the University President’s Office.
Per an official UVA news release, a national search for Littlepage’s successor will begin in the near future.
“It’s hard to believe how fast the last 16 years as the director of athletics at UVA have gone,” Littlepage said in the news release. “Overall, to have worked and lived in Charlottesville and the University community for 35 of the last 41 years is truly a blessing. After much thought and consideration, I realized this was the right time for me to step aside. There is a sense of great pride in the accomplishments of our program since taking over as AD in 2001. When I reflect on the great coaches that have come here, the facilities, and talented student-athletes, I can move ahead knowing the athletics program has a great foundation.”
That foundation and the athletic department’s “most successful era to date” per the news release came on the heels of an Athletics Task Force recommendation to create formal tiers for the University’s 24 varsity sports. That Task Force was created by then University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III as part of the school’s 2020 long-term planning effort. The Task Force made its proposal to the Board of Visitors in April of 2001 just four months before Littlepage officially was appointed as director of athletics following an interim role to fill in for the departing Terry Holland.
The Task Force stressed that the department was not in distress, but that the rising costs of college athletics did not match the slower pace of revenue increases (that landscape changed dramatically over the years with conference realignment and TV contracts). The recommendations included:
- Adding women’s golf, while eliminating men’s indoor track and field.
- Classifying sports into four tiers: top tier of football, men’s and women’s basketball; second tier of men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, rowing, men’s and women’s swimming; third tier of softball, women’s tennis, women’s cross country, women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, volleyball, women’s golf if added; fourth tier of baseball, wrestling, men’s golf, men’s tennis, men’s cross country, men’s indoor track and field if retained.
- Establishing a $100 million VAF endowment.
- Raising student fees to meet the state average with increases going to athletics.
- Redesigning the Department of Athletics’ academic advising and support services.
According to the news release on the recommendations, “the task force did not make a recommendation about whether or not to build a new basketball arena, but expressed concerns about projected costs and possible overruns.”
Beginning his tenure in that climate, Littlepage ushered in a tremendous period of growth and success during the past 16 years.
Starting in 2002, the department adopted the brand statement of “Uncompromised Excellence” alongside 10-year goals for athletics. In 2013, those goals and the brand statement were extended for another 10-year period through 2022. Over those 15 years, Virginia has won an ACC-leading 76 conference championships as well as 13 NCAA National Championships.
The most notable blemish on the strong resume has been the deterioration of the Virginia football program. Since reseating Scott Stadium in 2008, the Hoos have posted only one winning season in 2011. Attendance and season ticket sales have dwindled throughout that time period. Bronco Mendenhall is the third coach in charge of the program since 2008 as Al Groh finished out his tenure before Mike London took over the job. The revenue hit from the extended period of football struggles has been offset by TV revenue, but remains a long-term issue for the department until the program turns things around.
Over the first 10 years of the new brand statement, UVA also graduated 93% of student-athletes who completed their eligibility. Most recently, the 2016-17 ACC Academic Honor Roll featured 323 UVA student-athletes, up from 232 in 2005. The overall 2017 spring semester GPA of 3.1 represented the highest in the department since 2003.
Fundraising also has grown over 16 years. From 2002-2012, the Virginia Athletics Foundation raised more than $350 million and the current All In For Excellence initiative is at more than $153 million. During Littlepage’s tenure, Virginia also raised $130 million to build the John Paul Jones Arena and $13 million for the George Welsh Indoor Practice Facility in addition to many other facility upgrades at the other sports’ locations.
The first African-American athletics director in Atlantic Coast Conference history, Littlepage was recognized for many of those accomplishments through the years. He was named the Black Coaches Association’s “Athletics Administrator of the Year” in 2003 and 2006. He was also listed on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 101 most influential minorities in sports in 2003 and 2004. In 2005-06, Littlepage served as the chair of the Men’s Division I Basketball Committee and administered its selection process and served on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Collegiate Athletics Directors (NACDA) from 2006-10.
“Virginia athletics are synonymous with excellence and integrity, and much of the credit for that belongs to Craig Littlepage, a class act in every way.” Val Ackerman, Big East Commissioner of and former UVA women’s basketball player, said in a statement. “Legions of Wahoo student-athletes have Craig to thank for bringing them a one-of-a-kind life experience, and UVA supporters around the country can take enormous pride in being associated with one of most accomplished and best-run operations in college sports. Craig’s long-standing contributions to basketball have also been a tremendous service to the game. He’ll be greatly missed.”
“Craig Littlepage has been the steady hand at the helm of the University of Virginia athletic department for the last 16 years,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “His leadership and positive influence are well known, beginning with his days as a student-athlete and continuing throughout his coaching career and his 25 plus years in athletics administration. Craig is one of the most highly respected individuals within the ACC, among his peers, and across the overall landscape of collegiate athletics. Even more impressive is how remarkable he is as a person, which is why I’ve always described him as one of the true gentlemen in our profession. Nora and I wish Craig and Margaret nothing but the best as they look ahead to this next chapter.”