are high times for Virginia Tech football. Deserved ACC and national accolades
are showered on Frank Beamer and Bryan Randall, Tech revels in the demonstration
that undisputed ACC football championships can be won in a somewhat shorter
conference membership timeframe than the fifty-one years [and counting] it is
taking the Hoos, and the Hokie Nation prepares to descend on New Orleans like
the Red Army on Berlin. Good times, indeed. There is even more news at hand for
Tech’s legions of followers: Virginia Tech’s basketball season opens Sunday.
Well, actually, as a handful of Tech fans are aware, Tech
basketball began play almost three weeks ago, the night before Tech sent all of
those Hoo football All-Americans home losers. It may come as a shock to a few
thousand residents of Richmond, NOVA and Tidewater holding season tickets, but
seven games have already been played. What could be even more of a revelation is
that four have been played at home. I guess the Tech ticket office failed to
include a copy of the schedule when they mailed out the season tickets.
Tech has compiled a 5-2 record against mostly low-level
competition. The most conspicuous thing that juts out after the early-season
contests is that the team doesn’t seem to be very good. They have no inside
game whatsoever and the perceived strength of the team, its backcourt, would be
considered a weakness on the top half-dozen or so teams in our new league, the
ACC. Yep, that league. The one whose membership currently holds down half of the
spots in the USA Today/ESPN ranking of the Top Ten and, for good measure, has
two more teams thrown into the rest of the Top 25. The league that, despite some
braying by our former conference, remains the gold standard for college
basketball. The one where the bulk of the membership is far more concerned about
how their basketball team performs in March than how its football team does in
November. The one where Tech is very likely to stink up the joint this year.
Tech opens ACC play this Sunday. The first-ever league
game is not against any run-of-the-mill ranked NC State or Maryland team,
either. Coming to Cassell will be none other than the North Carolina Tar Heels,
one of the heaviest of the ACC’s heavyweights. This is going to be a little
different ‘Welcome to the ACC’ greeting than serving up Duke as our initial
conference football opponent. Yikes! Well, the good news is we can expect a full
Tech’s first four home games have been played in virtual
seclusion in a mostly-empty Cassell Coliseum. This has not, however, been due to
general disinterest on the part of the fan base, which for years was attributed
as the cause of Tech’s basketball attendance problems, On the contrary, as
anyone who has desired to actually attend a game only to find the box office
shuttered has discovered, Cassell is sold out for the season. There are no
It seems a reasonable question to ask why, if all tickets
have been bought, only 3k-4k are showing up for basketball games? The answer is
that the bulk of the tickets reside with Tech fans in NOVA, Richmond and
Tidewater who have no interest in watching Tech tangle with the likes of
Maryland-Eastern Shore, Chattanooga or even in-state JMU. Their season tickets
are being treated as two-game mini-packs for Sunday’s Carolina game and the
one against the Hoos later in the year.
It is certainly understandable that those from the eastern
parts of the state would find it very inconvenient if not impossible to travel
to Blacksburg on a weeknight, but one has to wonder why they bought the tickets
in the first place if they were unable or not interested in using them. The
answer to that one, of course, is that these Hokies only wanted to see the Tar
Heels and Hoos. So much for Frank Beamer’s repeated statements that Tech fans
should come to watch Tech play.
A season ticket sales and distribution policy that has
been designed to minimize home court advantage is not exactly how the rest of
the ACC does it. It is par for the course for Tech basketball, however. It has
suffered for years from a neglect from the university and athletic
administration, so there is little reason for the fans to feel any differently.
Those terminally-insecure Tech fans who spend such inordinate amounts of time
parsing every comment made by sportscasters or written by sportswriters, or
innocent comments made by former Tech football players honoring their high
schools, to discover real or imagined instances of what they will then loudly
proclaim to be profound ‘disrespect’ shown to the Hokies [does anybody
seriously believe Willie Pile is somehow anti-Tech?] could save their energies
by focusing on what has happened a little closer to home. It is hard to find a
greater example of disrespect than the manner in which the Tech basketball team
has been treated over the last decade or so by its own administration.
To be fair, there are very good reasons why the program
was allowed to atrophy into its current state of disrepair. From the instant
Tech was invited to join the fledgling Big East Football Conference, football
was our meal ticket. The only way to develop enhanced conference opportunities
and escape what was thought to be the eventually-doomed Big East was to create a
football program that could get us there. Scarce athletic resources were devoted
to funding a football program that would move Tech to another league. It worked,
to say the least.
At the same time, it made little sense to pump cash into a
basketball program that was not going to get us into the ACC no matter how much
was spent, so Tech did not. After the Big East snub in 1994 that relegated Tech
to the miserable A-10 for basketball, the program was virtually written off,
descending into the nether world of bare-bones budgets that included former
coach Ricky Stokes' $30,000 recruiting budget, one that found impossible to
overcome [and most any other coach would have, too]. The idea was that if
football ever improved our conference situation and revenue-sharing, then would
be the time to devote the monies to improving our lot in men’s basketball.
That time is now. Virginia Tech is woefully unprepared to
compete in ACC basketball. It will be impossible to be any worse than the
Georgia Tech basketball team that began play following the conference expansion
in 1978, a Yellow Jackets team that went winless in league play and never even
came close in its games, but our Tech won’t be far off. If Tech wins more than
two conference games this year, Seth Greenberg should receive serious
consideration for ACC Coach of the Year. Tech will likely be as bad as any team
seen in the ACC in a while. Those searching for disrespect towards our school
should wait and see what happens if a lousy Tech team drags down the conference
SOS enough to deny a seventh ACC team a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The grief we
will catch would be such as to make Temple seem a valued member of the Big East
in comparison. I suspect few if any of the columns and stories lambasting and
lamenting Tech in the basketball ACC will mention our football championship.
To be anything more than a laughingstock of our new
league, a Clemson without the basketball commitment, Tech has to get a lot
better. The only way to get a lot better is to acquire ACC-caliber players; few
are on the current roster. To achieve any basketball success recruits must be
swayed away from competitor conference schools. That might prove just a bit
tricky. While Tech’s budget has been increased with ACC membership to an
ACC-representative $3 mil or so, that is only the tip of the iceberg. A limited
university commitment to basketball meant Ricky Stokes never had a fair chance
to win at Tech, and the task facing Seth Greenberg seems only slightly less
When the Hoos open their new basketball palace in a couple
of years, Virginia Tech will have the worst basketball facilities in the ACC.
Even Clemson, where basketball has generally been relegated to somewhere distant
behind football, spring football, football recruiting and coach-firing in the
Tigers athletics pecking order, will have better basketball digs.
Tech’s basketball facility problems begin with Cassell
Coliseum. I always find it amusing to read message board posts pointing out what
a great basketball environment Cassell ‘USED’ to have. Twenty years ago when
it was a fine facility instead of the obsolete relic it is today, that was true.
That twenty years also exceeds the life experiences of today’s recruits, who
are unlikely to be particularly impressed with tales of how Cassell used to
rock. They instead will see a facility that compares badly with the gleaming
basketball palaces available to our competitors. Cassell is going to have to be
replaced in what will be a tremendous financial undertaken for a university
whose past lack of conference revenue-sharing, taken for granted by existing ACC
membership, will have us playing serious catch-up for some time to come. Cassell
is only part of the equation, however.
I well remember roaming around Merryman a few years ago
and hearing a basketball recruit asking a gentleman who was then an assistant,
“Where is the basketball building?” The answer to that question seemed to
play a role in convincing that young man to take his talents elsewhere. I
imagine that question has been asked a lot by potential basketball recruits, and
Seth and his staff have heard it a few times. Basketball recruits are not likely
to be impressed when told they will occasionally be allowed in the
football-centric Merryman to observe the lavish attention focused on the
Most ACC schools have separate training facilities for
their basketball teams, those that still do not are planning them [Georgia
Tech], and some even have a second one on the drawing board [Duke - it would
seem Coach K wants a separate building for each of his players]. Virginia Tech
does not, and until we do, the lack of one will impede recruiting.
Then there is the little matter of the practice court.
When Tech students playing intramural basketball in McComas Hall have a better
facility than the Cassell back-gym practice court available to those students
representing the university on its basketball team, it sends a loud and clear
message to potential recruits as to how they will rate if they come to Virginia
Tech. Facilities matter in basketball just as much if not more than they do in
football. Due to budgetary considerations, Tech has been a dove in the
basketball facilities arms race and has a lot of catching up to do to have any
hopes of success in an ACC bristling with facility firepower.
While the basketball budget has been bulked up a bit,
there are still glaring examples that it is not enough. One such happened at St.
John’s a week ago, where the team endured an eight-hour bus trip each way,
including an all-nighter back to Tech after the Wednesday night game. No other
ACC school would treat its basketball players so shabbily. Limited flight
arrangements at the Roanoke airport contributed to this, but that the Athletic
Director would not spring for a charter flight says much about Tech’s current
commitment to basketball. You can bet your Sugar Bowl tickets that rival coaches
have contacted every single member of Seth’s A-List of recruits to let them
know that travel would be quite a bit more comfortable at their schools. Throw
in some difficult travel to the spartan accommodations of the Tech basketball
team, and you have something other than an optimum recruiting environment.
Tech fans bask in the ACC football championship and make
plans to attend or view the Sugar Bowl. The Tech basketball team prepares to
begin what is likely to be a very difficult first season in the ACC. A repeat of
last year’s satisfying finish to our Big East basketball membership is highly
unlikely, although the staff and team are perfectly welcome to prove me wrong.
The ACC does not contain the basketball dogs that populated the depths of the
Big East last year and that assisted Tech in finally making some basketball
noise. A comparable conference finish this year will be much harder.
Virginia Tech is now in the ACC for all sports, not just
football, and including basketball. Over the next few years it is time for the
administration and fans of the university to start acting like it.