Monday, June 19, 2000
by Will Stewart,

The Summer of '99: Maalox Time

In the collegiate sports world, there's a saying that applies from April to August: No news is good news.

Now to explain: if you're a college football and basketball fan who pays little attention to any other college sports, then the time period from late April to late August is a dead zone for you. The games aren't being played, so the only news that comes up is typically off-the field news, and typically, it's bad news.

The April to August time period is usually when you hear nothing but stories about athletes getting in trouble, quitting school, leaving school early, or failing academically, and it's also a popular time for the message board regulars to rehash the same subjects that seem to appear every summer, namely, conference affiliation and uniform colors.

Different schools may have different off-season hot topics, but the basic gist is that the less you hear about your favorite school during the spring and summer months, the better. Those of you who remember the string of Tech football player arrests in the offseason between 1995 and 1996, especially the infamous Blacksburg Brawl of late summer 1996, know what I mean.

All of which brings me to the point of this article. Recently, I was reviewing the News and Notes archives for 1999, and I was struck by what an intense time the April-to-August time frame of that year was for Virginia Tech athletics. From the time the 98-99 men's basketball season ended until the time Tech's 1999 football season started to take off, it was an unusual period in which many worrisome news items and reasons to gnash teeth came to light.

For purposes of making my point, I'll extend the time period from late February all the way to early October, though most of the action happened from late March to late August. Here's what happened during the spring and summer of 1999 to rock the Virginia Tech sports world:

February 26th: HokieCentral runs an article called "Is something getting ready to happen with Tech and the Big East?" in which it is reported that various sources are hinting that Tech may get into the Big East by "the end of the spring." The rumor instantly becomes prime message board fodder, but there is no word from Tech or the Big East.

March 22nd: Jim Weaver fires men's basketball coach Bobby Hussey, just six days after indicating to the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jeff White that there was no reason to think that Hussey's job was in jeopardy. Hussey, who was "blindsided" by the move, characterizes the firing as cold and quick, and complains later to the media.

March 24th: Weaver hires Ricky Stokes to replace Hussey. Stokes is welcomed with open arms, but the hiring of a Wahoo to coach Tech basketball doesn't sit well with everyone.

March 29th: the Tech-to-the-Big-East rumors hit the mainstream media, as the Roanoke Times's Jack Bogaczyk writes an article called "Tech's role in the Big East may expand."

April 23rd: Montgomery County Circuit Court unseals an indictment accusing former Virginia Tech QB Jim Druckenmiller of raping a Tech student on a visit to Blacksburg in March. Thus begins a media circus that will humiliate Druckenmiller and will drag on until the trial ends in July.

May 5th: Tech whip linebacker Lorenzo Ferguson is arrested for multiple counts of forging checks. He is immediately suspended and will eventually be kicked off the team.

May 26th: the Big East athletic directors vote by an "overwhelming margin" to recommend to their school presidents that Virginia Tech be admitted into the Big East conference.

June 9th: the news hits that Tech tailback Andre Kendrick was charged with marijuana possession several weeks earlier and has a trial date in August.

June 18th: Roanoke Times writer Doug Doughty says casually in his on-line Notebook Plus column, "I have heard independently from two semi-reliable sources that Miami will be introduced as a 10th ACC member on July 18." Shockwaves are felt all over the East Coast as Doughty gets more attention than he ever wanted, and Hokie fans justifiably start wringing their hands and tearing up the HokieCentral message board with worried thoughts. The rumor, which appears to have more than a grain of truth to it, jeopardizes Tech's quest for Big East membership and takes on a life of its own.

June 24th: the Big East extends a membership "proposal" to Virginia Tech that includes heavy entry fees, exit fees, and reduced revenue sharing. Tech says they'll mull it over and make a decision later. Meanwhile, three TV stations on the East Coast report that the ACC wants to invite Miami.

July 18th: the ACC ends its yearly athletic directors meeting with the announcement that it will not expand "this year." Miami AD Paul Dee is coy about whether or not the Canes were being considered and were interested. This doesn't end the speculation that Miami will receive an invitation.

July 19th: the Tech sports family is hit by tragedy as Tech football recruit Marques Hampton from Tallwood High School and his mother are killed in a car accident on I-81 on the way home from visiting Virginia Tech's campus. Tech later endows a scholarship in his honor.

July 22nd: Druckenmiller is acquitted of rape after the jury deliberates for just an hour. However, the damage is already done, as the sleazy details of the case do irreparable harm to Druckenmiller's already somewhat-shaky party boy image.

August 2nd: Tech says that it will delay entry into the Big East until 2001-2002, to let the Miami-ACC situation resolve itself. Jim Weaver's brutally frank comments about not wanting to enter a Miami-less Big East, and the possibility that other conferences may "cherry-pick" Big East teams, angers some Big East media personnel, who rip him in print. Weaver also admits to talking regularly with the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten conferences.

August 24th: an announcement is made that Tech will join the Big East for all sports in the 2001-2002 academic year (this would later be moved up to the 2000-2001 year). No formal press conference occurs yet.

October 6th: the press conference to announce Tech's entry into the Big East for all sports finally occurs. Terms of Tech's Big East deal are announced, and they're not good. Tech will pay $2.5 million over ten years and won't share TV revenue for the first five years. The Hokies also have to pay $200,000 to exit the Atlantic 10.

By the time the terms of Big East entry were announced on October 6th, the Hokie football team was 4-0 and had just thrashed arch-rival Virginia 31-7 on the road. Tech fans were starting to get an inkling that they might have a special team on their hands, and finally, after months of off-the-field troubles and conference speculation, Tech fans turned their attention to what they love best: Hokie football.

As the season went on and the Hokies stayed undefeated and in the national title hunt, the hysteria built to a crescendo, and understandably so. But sometimes I wonder if the hoopla was not only because the Hokies were undefeated, but also because their fans had finally emerged from a difficult time full of bad news, uncertainty, and speculation, and they were looking for something good to get excited about.

There is no question that the offseason of 1999 was one of the most gut-wrenching roller coaster rides in the history of Tech athletics. Hokie fans, players, coaches, and athletic administrators can only hope that the summer of 2000 is much smoother sailing, because no one wants a repeat of the summer of 1999.


A New Addition to the Hokie Family

On a personal note, the second addition to our family arrived at 4:47 a.m. on Saturday, June 17th. Ronan Michael Stewart, weighing 8 pounds, 3 ounces, and measuring 21-1/2 inches, arrived in fine shape, and mother and baby are doing well.

Sorry, no photos or digital pics are available yet, but trust me, he's cute.  I'll provide something for viewing as soon as I'm able.

I figure Ronan will need to gain at least 200 pounds and grow at least 54 or 55 inches before he will be able to take up his rightful position as quarterback for the Hokies in the fall of 2019, after a redshirt year, of course. And he'll have to cut his 40 time from infinity down to the 4.4 range or faster.

But that's by today's standards -- the quarterback of the future may well be averaging 6-6, 250 pounds by the time Ronan is old enough and has watched enough film to wear the maroon and orange.

And for those of you who are wondering, I had the "Summer of '99" article written before Ronan was born, so I would have something in reserve to post. Things might get slow around HC for a week or two, but we'll be back in the swing of things before you know it.


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