Tuesday, December 9, 1997

Hokie Hotline Notes - Monday, December 8, 1997

Dec. 8 Hokie Hotline Notes appear first, followed by afternoon news conference in Jacksonville conducted by the Gator Bowl.

The first half-hour featured AD Jim Weaver and Gator Bowl Executive Director Rick Catlett.

Weaver said he had a gut feeling last week that the Gator Bowl didn't want a WVU-UNC rematch. The offer to Weaver came at 5:07 p.m. Sunday.

About 5,000 tickets were sold Monday, which he called a good first day.

Weaver STRESSED the importance of a good VT show of support and needing to take 18,000 to 20,000 people.

To travel well to the Sugar Bowl or when you have 10-1 or 9-2 teams is one thing, but to travel well at 7-4 is something else. "Virginia Tech has the opportunity to set itself apart" in the eyes of the bowl execs, Weaver said.

Roth and Weaver said stadium seating will be better than in past years. Sideline seats will be sold in the lower section, seats in the upper deck will be 35 to 40 yard line variety. End zone seats will be sold last. They repeated the importance of buying tickets thru the VT ticket office.

Weaver dwelled on how the 1997 experience will be different from 1994. The game and events are all in Jacksonville in a new stadium. Day game instead of night. Etc..

The Catlett-Weaver relationship goes back about 15 years to when Weaver was an assistant AD at Florida and worked to bring gymnatics trials to Jacksonville. Catlett worked in the mayor's office of sports development. It sounded on the radio show like they know and respect each other quite well.
Bill Roth thanked Catlett on behalf of the Tech camp for selecting the Hokies.

"You don't have to thank us," Catlett said. "Virginia Tech earned the right" by finishing second in the conference.

He said the Gator sort of owes the Hokie fans because of the 1994 game's circumstances and having to make the trek to Gainesville.

They talked up the stadium. It wasn't just renovated -- they tore it down and rebuilt it for the new NFL team.

"We're going to throw a party and maybe a college football game will break out!" Catlett said.
And get a load of these festivities: 1. The heart of downtown in the Jacksonville Landing area will be closed to vehicle traffic on New Year's Eve for a humongous party. One of the bridges into downtown will be closed so that there's nothing but pedestrians in these areas. 2. The Gator Bowl Parade will start on one side of the river (presumably the south side) and march across the bridge into downtown. 3. Dueling pep rallies will follow. Tech and UNC pep rallies will be set up on opposite sides of the river, with the challenge to out-do the other side. 4. There will be a New Orleans-style masquerade street festival downtown. Four stages will be set up and feature live entertainment. 5. The Budweiser Tailgate Party starts at 10 a.m. at the stadium parking. Kickoff at 12:30 p.m.

Catlett said the UNC athletic director said they are treating this like a home game. They will bring all their fans and be seeking their highest ranked finish ever. Catlett said the challenge is there for VT to not let the place be full of blue and white.

A lot of time was spent walking through the reasoning and timing of "bowl swap" discussions.
Catlett said it goes back to discussions he had with the Cotton Bowl director last summer. It is important that the upper tier of bowls below the Alliance (with the #2 conference picks, he said) be able to gain more flexibility against rematches.

He pointed to UNC in the Gator for third time in 5 years. UT was headed for the Citrus for the third straight year until Florida hit a slide. Gator saw the possibility at one point of Florida heading to the Peach and that's when they brought up the idea of a swap. I understood Catlett to say that discussions of a selection process in the second tier bowls goes back to the summer and included the BE, SEC and ACC commissioners.

The reasoning comes down to having flexibility and being able to get good matchups with some stature, he said.

Why shouldn't there be a system in which, Catlett said for example, a Big East runner-up would go to the Cotton Bowl one year in order to avoid bowl rematches.

Catlett made the point that a very good 1996 VT team at 10-1 went to the Orange Bowl because of the BE tie-breaker. But had they not, wouldn't it have been attractive for a team that good to go to the Cotton Bowl, he asked.

The reality is that the VTs and UNCs are going to get shut out of the Alliance as runners-up because of the system, Catlett said.

The Super Alliance (1998) will work, he said. Then, for the next bowl tier, you need to keep in mind what the games are for and who they are for. (Meaning variety for the participants and good matchups.) He talked about the excitement that goes with an athlete getting to play in different cities, how some of them may not have even been out of their home state before.

But then Catlett seemed to have doubts that improvements to the system are in the offing. The athletic directors will have to become involved to make it work, he said. Weaver said there was some discussion of the bowl system at an AD meeting he attended in Chicago last week. "We need to give the bowl experience diversity," Weaver agreed.

Weaver said this will be the third Gator Bowl he has been involved in. His first was as an assistant coach at Penn State 30 years ago; the next was in 1983 when he was an administrator at Florida.
Catlett talked about how most years he has made a trip up to see a Tech game in Blacksburg and stay at the Red Lion Inn. He didn't get to do that in 1997. But he will be in Blacksburg next Monday -- apparently for a public relations swing.

(Sorry basketball fans. I didn't listen to the BB portion of Hokie Hotline. Too many football notes to transcribe!)

John Harrison, chairman of the Gator Bowl committee, officially extended the bowl invitation to both teams at 2:06 Monday.

Harrison called VT and UNC "two quality football programs with tradition."

On the phone line were Jim Weaver and Frank Beamer, and UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour. Baddour announced that a football coach hiring for UNC would be forthcoming in a 5:30 announcement.

Baddour said UNC was excited to accept and go back to Jacksonville where the Gator Bowl "has done an EXCELLENT job of treating us so well."

Writer asked about the WVU/VT decision. The Gator's response was that both programs have tremendous fan followings and that VT in recent years has become one of the top 10 programs in terms of wins and losses. VT injuries were a factor in the team's late-season slide. The winning tradition and the fact that VT has not been to Jax in several years contributed to the decision. Catlett also mentioned that Tech's "two star players" will be back for the bowl.

"We thought a lot of Coach Beamer and what he has meant to college football," Catlett said. He brought up Beamer's name in admiration on several occasions during the press conference and again Monday night with Bill Roth.

UNC should be in the Alliance, but Gator is delighted to have the Tar Heels back, they said.

The bowl bid decision was reached Sunday afternoon after 90 minutes of discussion by a 7-person committee. The "consensus at that point was Virginia Tech," is how Catlett put it.

Tickets will be first allotted at 11,500 per school, with more available if needed. Sales have hit the 35,000 to 40,000 level. Stadium seats 73,000.

Projected bowl payout to the conferences? The minimum is $1.3 million. 1995 game paid $1.3 million; 1996 paid $1.7 million.

Writer asked about the Auburn swap scenario. The BE, ACC and SEC commissioners agreed to look into it, but it was too much to work out with three conferences and three networks all intertwined, according to Catlett.

The three-year contract between Gator and Big East and ACC is up after this game. The Gator likes the relationship and wants to work out a renewal.

Was the no-Alliance situation a factor in Mack Brown's departure? "You'll have to ask Mack Brown that," Baddour said. "I'm not going to speculate."

Would Jim Donnan have coached UNC in the Gator Bowl had he taken the job? No, said Baddour.
Coach Beamer said he appreciated the confidence shown by the Gator Bowl and noted that UNC is the highest ranked football team Tech has ever played in a bowl.

Beamer said Tech will be healthy for the bowl, with Al Clark and Shawn Scales to return. He said the difference between weeks 2 and 11 was that the quarterback was at 3/4 speed and "the defense was not as consistent as we've gotten used to around here."

Beamer talked about the Hokies' exceptional won-loss record in past five years and noted that Tech is among only 10 teams reaching a bowl for a fifth consecutive year.

He said the Gator Bowl offers a chance for those associated with the program to feel better about themselves.

UNC belongs in the Alliance "without question," he said. Is this year's Carolina defense the best Tech has ever faced? Probably so, Beamer said. A great caliber of defense, he said, and he mentioned the defense of Nebraska, too.

Writer pointed to the relatively small distance between Tech and UNC and wondered why the teams hadn't played in more than 50 years. Silence. Then Baddour tried to make humor and said "Ask Swofford at the ACC office."

What is the mood of the team? Baddour was asked. "This team has been ready to play every game....it's a great opportunity for us to get that 11th win for the first time."

Weaver called Catlett a leader in the bowl community in trying to avoid rematch games. He said Tech would have "listened" if the Gator brought a swap proposal forward. Baddour agreed about the need to look at the bowl structure, because going to the same games isn't good for the players, fans or cities involved.

A writer said he had read that NBC offered a payoff to replace the Big East team in the Gator. Catlett said that while there had been a lot of speculation, "that was never an issue we addressed." He said the only way Notre Dame was going to the Gator Bowl was if UNC went to the Alliance.

Is 3 out of 5 years in the Gator a tough sell for Carolina fans? Baddour said no. Carolina has a good tradition with the Gator, and that fans still talk about the outcome of the 1963 game. (Whatever that was!)

Would the two schools consider a football series? Baddour said he looked forward to discussing a series. Weaver said that as two rookie ADs, they can have some discussions about this (presumably he meant during bowl week?).

Weaver said Tech has a great tradition of travel and had a great experience in Jacksonville in 1994. He thinks VT can bring 17,000...18,000...20,000 fans.

Would the Carquest be a tough sell to Tech fans this year? Weaver said it wouldn't be fair to get into speculation.

Beamer said the Hokies will lift weights and run during the next 2 weeks, which include exams. The team will practice Dec. 18-23 in Blacksburg, break for Christmas, return to campus on Christmas night, fly to Jacksonville Dec. 26.



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