Since my last Virginia Tech Magazine column ["The BIG EAST Conference and Virginia Tech," Summer 2003] went to press, events have changed radically, and the matter of ACC expansion has now come full circle. Given the phenomenal interest from all corners as events unfolded and the extraordinary media coverage, I think it is appropriate to devote one more column to the topic.
When we learned in April that prospects for the ACC expansion were real, a whirlwind of activity surrounded our attempt to assess the future of the Atlantic Coast and BIG EAST athletic conferences. The situation was in a state of flux, with circumstances changing daily--and sometimes hourly. In order to understand our decisions throughout this process, it is useful to understand our responsibilities. Our first obligation was, and is, to protect the interests of Virginia Tech, as well as the overall interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It is critical that Virginia Tech be a member of a financially viable conference. Keep in mind that although Virginia Tech is a public institution, no taxpayer dollars are used to support intercollegiate athletics. What if athletic conference revenues were reduced by several million dollars per year? If we could not attract good players through scholarships, our talented coaching staff would become the target of other schools. Finding our sports revenues in the red could force us to raise our student athletic fees (and a fee increase would be neither feasible nor appropriate in light of current escalating tuition) or to eliminate several non-revenue intercollegiate sports.
People will question the process of the 2003 ACC expansion for years to come. It was arduous. However, few disagree with our final decision and the bright future we will have in the ACC. We are delighted to be affiliated with some of the nation's leading universities. Our fans could not be more excited (regardless of the circuitous process) to have the dream of several decades--a dream born in one millennium and carried into the next--at last become a reality.
The ACC is a part of our future and we gladly accepted the offer of membership. It is the right move academically as well as athletically. We have a similar academic profile to many of the universities in the ACC. We currently have major partnerships of differing types with seven ACC members. Because of programmatic alliances, a closer affiliation with sports enables a natural platform for other common interests, such as information sharing or administrative associations.
The athletic benefits of the ACC are numerous. Our fans will have many more opportunities to attend athletic events of all kinds because we are within easy driving distance of all but two ACC schools. More than 100,000 members of the Hokie Nation live in Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas. We are part of the geographic "footprint' of this conference; some might say that the ACC is part of our cultural heritage. Certainly, it is the dominant sports milieu in our part of the country. The competition is keen, which any athlete and coach would desire, and we are up to the challenge. Recruiting will improve for all sports. Travel costs will be lower. It is a win-win situation for the university and its students, fans, alumni, and athletes.
The process of joining the ACC highlighted the complex, changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics and was very difficult for all parties involved. In my dealings with the BIG EAST and the ACC, I have been and will continue to be forthright. I have the utmost respect for the presidents of West Virginia, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers and for BIG EAST Conference Commissioner Mike Tranghese. I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with them.
There is a sense of permanency to our future, which now demands our undivided attention. Virginia Tech is headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and we know that this affiliation will be good for our students, athletes, fans, and communities for many years to come.
The ACC invitation also brought an upbeat ending to one of the more challenging years in the university's history. As we brace for the last phase of a $72 million budget reduction, it injects a much needed dose of optimism.