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There's an old axiom here at TechSideline.com that we've learned over the years: If you want traffic, talk about football. Usually when you start talking "Olympic sports" at VT, you can count on your web hit counter getting a break, because en masse, Hokies don't get jacked about swimming and diving, women's lacrosse, softball, track and field, wrestling ... you get the idea.
But it's a new day in Tech athletics, thanks to ACC membership. And while football still carries the torch -- and the athletic budget -- for the Hokies, I predict that Tech fans will take a little bit more interest in Olympic sports from this day forward, for two reasons:
1.) They're intrigued to
see how VT fares against the ACC.
Everyone knows how strong the ACC is in the Olympic sports. They're at least on par with the Big Ten, the SEC, the Pac 10 and the Big 12. While the Big East was a good football conference and basketball conference, one could never argue that the BE was a strong overall conference. They had some contenders here and there, but the Big East wasn't known for winning national championships in Olympic sports, outside of Syracuse in lacrosse a few times and Connecticut in men's soccer a few years ago. Notre Dame has also been known to pop off a national championship here and there, so the BE conference did a lot for its profile by adding the Golden Domers back in the mid-90s.
But the ACC is worlds ahead of the Big East in overall competitiveness and national championships. Some championship examples: Virginia won four straight men's soccer championships in the early 90s and two men's LAX championships since 1999, and in one of the most ridiculous stats you'll ever hear, the UNC women's soccer team has won 18 of the 23 national championships awarded in women's soccer since 1982. That shames even legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
Never mind the championships -- the ACC is just a solid conference and strong in all sports, boasting nationally ranked teams across the board. The question is, how and when is VT going to compete with that? Handcuffed by hopping from one underfunded, under-exposed conference to another for decades, Virginia Tech has struggled to build competitive Olympic sports programs.
The Hokies' Olympic sports have lagged behind in every area you can imagine to their ACC counterparts. VT's coaching budgets are smaller, their travel budgets are smaller, their recruiting budgets are smaller, and they award fewer scholarships. Did I leave anything out?
When you combine those monetary disadvantages to the immense recruiting advantage the ACC held as VT tried to compete in the geographic footprint of the conference -- without actually being in it -- you can understand why the Hokies are so far behind in so many non-rev sports. The question is, what happens from here on out?
First of all, the ACC's historical recruiting advantage is immediately lessened, simply by the Hokies being in the conference. That's one big reason VT women's soccer coach Kelly Cagle said she was able to put together the 24th-ranked recruiting class in the country (according to Soccer Buzz magazine).
Secondly, the Hokies will immediately throw more money at their Olympic programs. Mark Berman of the Roanoke Times reported that the Hokies will increase funding for their Olympic sports by $510,000 next year, $330,000 of which will be allocated to scholarships.
Simply fully funding all scholarships across all Olympic sports would instantly boost the Hokies' ability to recruit. Let's say you're a tennis player from Roanoke, and you've got an offer for a full scholarship to UNC or a half scholarship to Virginia Tech. For many families, all other issues aside, that decision is a no-brainer. Once the Hokies can match their ACC counterparts scholarship for scholarship, the recruiting battle can move on to other factors.
But funding all scholarships isn't just a case of snapping your fingers and making it so. One advantage that the ACC programs have over VT is large athletic endowments that fund scholarships. An endowment is a large one-time donation to an athletic department, and the interest is drawn every year to pay for scholarships, with the principal remaining untouched. At VT, for example, you can endow a football scholarship for $100k or $150k.
Funding a scholarship through endowment beats the pants off of funding it from yearly donations or athletic revenue. Programs like UNC have huge endowments from which scholarship funds are drawn every year, and scholarships don't have to be funded year to year from athletic revenue or donations.
If VT and UNC both have athletic revenue of $40 million, for example, and VT has to allocate $4 million of that to scholarships, but UNC doesn't because of their endowments, then that puts the Tar Heels ahead by $4 million, despite revenue being equal.
Men's golf and men's tennis are oddities at Virginia Tech, because they are fully funded through endowments. They won't receive any of the $330,000 additional scholarship funds, because they won't need them; the other 12 Olympic sports at VT will get that money.
Berman also reported that in addition to the extra $510,000 next year, the Olympic sports will be able to channel travel cost savings back into their programs. The VT athletic department will save at least $500,000 in travel costs next year, probably more, and whatever each Olympic sport saves on travel costs, their coaches will be able to use for budget items such as recruiting and equipment.
Whatever money is saved by bussing a team to Wake Forest, versus flying them to Syracuse, gets plowed back into the program.
Coaches' salaries and assistant coaches' salaries will increase, as well. That process has already started. Mike Harris of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that new wrestling coach Tom Brands, a tremendous hire if ever there was one, will make $60,000 a year, $17,000 more than his predecessor, Keith Mourlam ... and Brands will have two assistant coaches, where Mourlam only had one.
As an aside, keep an eye on the VT wrestling program. VT will be one of only six wrestling programs in the ACC. With the hiring of Brands and the wrestling recruiting grounds of Southwest Virginia, VT could move to the front of the league quickly. In the National Wrestling Coaches Association rankings of March 11, 2004, only one ACC team, Virginia, was ranked in the top 25, and no other ACC teams even got votes. Wrestling might be Tech's first, best chance to win an ACC championship.
Much has been made of the fact that Virginia Tech has finished behind every other ACC school in the Directors' Cup rankings every year since Bill Brill was in diapers. The rankings are issued by the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors and are a good measure of the overall strength of a university's athletic programs.
But the Hokies have also lagged behind every other ACC school in funding, exposure, etc. every year since Bill Brill was in diapers. Now that the playing field is leveled a little bit, it will be interesting to see what Virginia Tech can do.
Speaking of Olympic
sports, TSL will be undergoing a site revamp next week, and one item that will
be added is an Olympic Sports message board. We'll also be adding a new Women's
Basketball board, breaking that board out of our current Basketball board.
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