Assessing Frank Beamer: The man who put Virginia Tech on the map

virginia tech frank beamerCollege football is supposed to be all beer and circus, a sideshow that gets alums back on campus to have a good time and open up their checkbooks to make the occasional donation, and to give the TV people a nice backdrop for their three-hour fall infomercials selling the school.

In our modern sports- and celebrity-obsessed society, we know that college football has become a lot more, to the point of being the cart that pushes the horse to a great degree.

And it’s not usually a good push that football gives to the school side of the ledger. Most places, the football program forces the academic side to cut corners to let talented players on campus and to continue to matriculate, and the payback is that the kids beat up their girlfriends, pillage the neighboring towns, and generally make a mockery of the whole process.

Any other impact on the school is negligible at best. The myth that football makes money to pay for other sports has long since been proven the lie, as has the notion that success in college sports provides money for academics. Nearly everybody in FBS is losing money, to a point where you have to wonder why we still do things the way we’ve always done them.

I can think of one story that bucks the trend. Virginia Tech football, circa 1999, the year that the Hokies came thisclose to winning a national championship, had an impact on the academic side that is still being felt.

In the wake of the near-miss, there was a sharp increase in applications to the school from prospective students who liked what they saw from ESPN depictions of crazy Thursday and Saturday nights in Lane Stadium.

What that did, over time, was raise the academic standards for the student body as a whole over time.

You get a more talented student body on campus, you’re going to attract more top-flight talent to want to engage them in the learning process.

Eventually the rising tide lifted Virginia Tech into the ACC, which enhanced the school’s athletic reputation, one, and two, helped Tech forge a whole host of new academic relationships with ACC member schools.

Virginia Tech football proved to be more than a one-hit wonder. Beginning in 2004, a full five years after Michael Vick came up just short in his bid to bring a national title to Blacksburg, the Hokies began a streak of eight consecutive seasons in which they recorded 10 or more wins.

A whole generation of future engineers, agricultural scientists, business majors, writers and teachers grew up thinking that heaven was a home football fall Saturday in Blacksburg, Va.

That is because of one man who by rights should have been fired after going 2-8-1 in 1992, his sixth season at Tech, and only got to stay on because then-athletics director Dave Braine saw something that nobody else did at the time.

“There was no trepidation in my mind that Frank Beamer could be a good head coach,” Braine told Sports Illustrated for a story published last month. “I knew that he could be. It was a matter of tweaking a few things and he did. He took the bull by the horns and ran with it. I caught some heat, sure [for keeping Beamer]. I was prepared for that.

“I think it worked out all right.”

That it did, for the football program and for Virginia Tech as a whole.

– Column by Chris Graham

         
 

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