Wednesday, August 25, 1999
Tech to Join Big East in 2001-2002
Well, it's official - Tech will join the Big East in the 2001-2002 school year. The news was announced around noon on Tuesday. Here is the press release on the official Big East web site, www.bigeast.org:
Thus ends a long and winding road that has been fraught with much rejection, many missteps, and more worrying than you can imagine in a lifetime.
But does it end now? Certainly, if the infamous Big East implosion occurs, led by the theorized defection of Miami to the ACC, the Hokies could arrive on the Big East scene just in time to observe a vast wasteland of a conference, a shell of its former self.
But for now, let's put those thoughts aside and consider what has been accomplished.
When it comes to conference membership, Virginia Tech has been the red-headed step-child of the NCAA, slapped silly by the ACC twice (1964 and 1977?) and the Big East once (1994). Our admission into the Big East reverses a 34-year old streak of not being an all-sports member of a conference.
Thirty-four years. The Hokies left the Southern Conference in 1965, back when I was less than a year old. Man, that's a long time.
When he was hired in the fall of 1997, Athletic Director Jim Weaver had one job: get Tech into an all-sports conference. Although the rumors were just starting to circulate at the time that Tech might be considered for all-sports membership in the Big East, those rumors didn't have much force, and never drew more of a response than "Yeah, right!" from Hokie fans.
Two years later, the deal is done. After many rumors, false starts, and negotiating over "proposals," the deal is so done that the Big East is announcing it on their official web site. No semi-reliable sources here. It's done.
As the message board posters astutely noticed, there are two important facets of the Big East press release:
1. Big East expansion is conditional on no changes in the current composition of the Conference membership.
That statement is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it works to Tech's advantage. If the Big East starts to fall apart, and/or Tech receives a more attractive offer for conference membership, then the Hokies can make any necessary moves, or refuse to enter the Big East, without having to pay the exit fees (one would assume).
On the other hand, if for some reason the Big East decides in the interim to expand by taking on someone else (bear with me here), they can tear up the Tech deal and throw it away.
2. Additional details pertaining to Virginia Tech's membership will be made by President Torgersen, Director of Athletics Jim Weaver and Tranghese as part of a September 23 news conference they will conduct on the Virginia Tech campus.
What else is going on September 23rd? That's right, the Tech/Clemson game on ESPN.
Although in many ways it blew up in their faces, I'll never forget the masterful public relations effort that UVa put forward for their early September, 1997 game against Auburn on ESPN. The Hoos unveiled their stadium expansion plans on national TV, announced the verbal commitment of his royal highness Ronald Curry, and had an on-camera session with $25 million donor Carl Smith.
The effort wasn't a complete success. Carl Smith rambled on and on and on, and was more of an embarrassment than anything else (but the checks are still good). And of course, Ronald Curry later backed out of his "commitment" and went to UNC.
But the bottom line is, for one night, in front of a national audience, UVa put on a very impressive show and made a statement to the nation about where they were headed with their football program. They did everything but win the game (Auburn won the 97 game - UVa won the return match last year).
Now, Jim Weaver is setting up the Big East press conference on the day that ESPN's cameras and crews will be in Blacksburg for the Clemson game, and you better believe the boys from Bristol, Connecticut will cover that one in a big way. The coverage will make a statement about where the Hokies are headed with their athletic programs.
Weaver may even throw in an artist's rendering of Tech's expanded stadium, although since it's not a state-approved project yet, I'm not sure if he'll go that far. But it would be nice, a la UVa in 1997.
With all that, there is one more thing that could make it a perfect evening: whipping Clemson.
But back to the topic at hand. Only time will tell what the Big East Conference's ultimate fate is, but Virginia Tech and Jim Weaver have both done the best with the hand that the Hokies have been dealt.
This monumental event comes as a result of the efforts of four men: Frank Beamer, Dave Braine, Paul Torgersen, and Jim Weaver.
Dave Braine pulled the masterstroke of getting an unknown, no-market Hokie football team into the Big East Football Conference. Frank Beamer ran with the ball from there, turning the exposure of the BEFC into a recruiting advantage, six straight bowl trips, national rankings, and a Sugar Bowl crown. Jim Weaver picked up where Braine left off, orchestrating a Big East invitation from a fractured conference, certain factions of which fought it the whole way.
Through it all, President Torgersen supported Braine, Beamer, and Weaver in their efforts. I don't know much about Dr. Torgersen and his role in all this, but I do know that he's a sports fan who believes in the significance of the part that athletics plays in the overall mission of a major university. Athletics rounds out the student experience and provides much-needed exposure and publicity for the university. President Torgersen will be sorely missed when he retires soon (I think he leaves at the end of the calendar year).
A job well done, gentlemen. It has been nearly ten years in the making, but you pulled it off. As I said, no one knows where it will go from here, but you've done more than anyone could have asked to this point.