Rivals on the Gridiron, U.Va. and Virginia Tech are Partners on All Other Fronts

Nov. 19, 2007 — The Commonwealth of Virginia has hosted its share of legendary meetings, and the annual Commonwealth Day gridiron get-together between the Hokies and Cavaliers certainly qualifies. But what some fans don't know about this "rivalry for the ages" is that the spirit of competition is the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to the relationship between the two sister institutions.

The reality is that this is more a partnership for the ages, played out in classrooms, libraries, conference rooms and research labs throughout every corner of the commonwealth, and aimed at improving the lives of every one of its citizens.

"U.Va. and Virginia Tech together form an extended family," said University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III. "Many of us in Charlottesville have parents, children, sisters and brothers who study, teach or work in Blacksburg. Our faculty members work in partnerships on many projects in many disciplines and research areas. Our libraries share materials, enriching research and scholarship at both schools, and we share space and resources at off-campus teaching centers in locations around the state."

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger also sees two institutions united in purpose. "While Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia are different in many ways, both share a vision: the quest for excellence. Many times that quest means that we work collaboratively. We share the belief that we can improve the lives and livelihoods of people around the globe through our teaching and research, and we both strive to build upon our considerable strengths to be among the best universities anywhere."

From his position at the heart of these and other important collaborations, Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va.’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, offers some valuable perspective on the passions surrounding the game itself. "The on-field rivalry disguises the deep and long-standing working relationship between our two schools. Off the field, we collaborate on research and many other important projects that promote the economic strength of the commonwealth. Our partnership enhances the effectiveness of our service to the citizens of Virginia. We value our relationships with our friends at Virginia Tech."


The U.Va.-Virginia Tech athletic rivalry often extends beyond the gridiron and into the households of families with college students.

Just talk to Robert Pianta, dean of U.Va.'s Curry School of Education. His daughter Megan is at U.Va., while son Tony is down the road in Blacksburg.

"It's just delightful," Pianta said. "Both of these kids love the places they are attending school, and no two kids could be more loyal to their institutions. They banter with each other, but when push comes to shove these two kids are best friends. It's kind of this fun way to have a rivalry and be different from one another, but at the same time connect around this difference."

The siblings' support for one another has its limits, he said. You won't catch them wearing each other's school sweatshirts. But you will find them together today, with their parents, sitting in Scott Stadium. "We'll see how they manage the tension," Pianta said.

Here's betting they manage it just like the schools will: as the best friends they are.

This spirit of collaboration has resulted in two recent and high-profile success stories. The first, in 2003, is Virginia Tech's invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, which became reality in 2004. "That is one thing that our alumni base, for many years, has been quite interested in," said Minnis Ridenour, senior fellow for resource development at Virginia Tech. "And there is no question in my mind that we would not be in the ACC if it had not been for the leadership of John Casteen and Leonard Sandridge. I think that speaks to the close relationship that our two sister institutions have had."

Ridenour said the other event which speaks to this point was the passage of the groundbreaking 2005 Higher Education Restructuring Act. "We worked very closely together and with the College of William & Mary in this process. We had to be physically wedded at the hip to each other to make this happen, and we did, with great long-term benefit of the universities throughout the state."

So, in the midst of the heated passion that can only be generated by a rivalry this storied, take a moment to step back and see that on other days when Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia get together – everybody wins.


Here is a sampling of some of the ways U.Va. and Virginia Tech pool their formidable resources and make a difference in countless lives all year long:

Northern Virginia Center
This collaborative facility, located in Falls Church, offers mostly graduate-level classes from both U.Va. and Virginia Tech and is geared toward D.C.-area professionals seeking advanced degrees.

Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute
A cooperative enterprise sponsored by U.Va.'s Institute for Environmental Negotiation, Virginia Tech's Center for Economic Education and the Virginia Department of Forestry, the institute assists citizens, business and public officials in discussing and resolving issues related to managing the commonwealth's natural resources and improving the quality of our environment.

University of Virginia Center for Digital History
Noted Virginia Tech professor Crandall Shifflett was on loan to U.Va. to help launch this groundbreaking digital research, teaching and learning project that included "Virtual Jamestown," a high-tech and high-profile digital celebration commemorating the 400th anniversary of the colony's founding.

Fueled by a joint grant from Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and Carillion Health System, this project studied seniors' cognitive abilities and navigational skills by creating a three-dimensional virtual environment to assess the effects of memory loss.

This is one of the many projects arising from the joint efforts of Virginia Tech's Center for Race and Policy and the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at U.Va. It included Virginia Tech using community forums to identify key issues in the community of Martinsville, then facilitating follow-up study circles to help residents understand and overcome them.

Blandy Farm
Here is proof that even centuries-old grudges can be conquered among "family" members. The Blandy Experimental Farm was originally intended to go to Virginia Tech — that is, until a team of Tech judges angered the farm's owner with an unfavorable rating at a livestock competition. He gave the land to U.Va. out of spite. Yet today, the schools regularly work side-by-side there on a variety of valuable agricultural experiments and endeavors – with nary a mention of the bovine brouhaha.

Written by John Kelly