VARSITY TEAMS: 22
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 24
FAMOUS ALUMNI: HERMAN MOORE, RALPH SAMPSON
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: COED SAUNA IN AQUATIC CENTER
Last year Virginia unveiled its $18.5 million Aquatic & Fitness Center (AFC), 13 lighted tennis courts and a softball complex. Since the late 1970s new gyms have popped up at UVA at a rate of one a decade. So why is the Lawn, the sprawling greensward at the heart of campus, still students' favorite place to run around?
Well, at a school rich in tradition, one ritual has in effect become a graduation requirement—streaking the Lawn. Any night will do for a 500-meter sprint in the nude from the Rotunda steps to the statue of Homer (of Odyssey fame, not The Simpsons), whose robed posterior you must kiss before dashing back to fetch your clothes.
A dictum of university founder Thomas Jefferson is posted above the check-in desk at AFC: GIVE ABOUT 2 HOURS EVERYDAY TO EXERCISE, FOR HEALTH MUST NOT BE SACRIFICED TO LEARNING. Students happily oblige, tossing Frisbees on the Lawn, swimming at AFC or heading for any of four gyms spread out across the campus. "Ninety-nine percent of all major facilities on U.S. campuses are in a central location," says Mark Fletcher, Virginia's director of intramural and recreational sports. "Our philosophy here is to disperse them—to put them on different street corners, so to speak."
Although Virginia is still recognized more for academics than athletics (for the third year in a row it ranks as U.S. News & World Report's top public university), the Cavaliers are strong in men's soccer and women's basketball, among other sports. Last year the men's and the women's lacrosse teams advanced to NCAA title games, and the football team went to a bowl for the seventh time in eight years. Students love the eclectic intramural and recreational offerings, which range from basketball to Swedish massage to Northern Chinese long fist, a martial art. For those who prefer the call of the wild, Charlottesville's surroundings offer enough outdoors to serve as a backdrop for just about any half hour of ESPN's Saturday-morning fare. Only 35 miles away in the Blue Ridge Mountains is Wintergreen, where students enjoy discounts at what Skiing magazine recently called "the South's single best ski area."
Of course, if you're really in a primal mood, there's always the Lawn.