Virginia Tech’s ACC booster
The Top Story by Chris Graham
The Big East was going up in flames around them, but Virginia Tech officials knew their bird, as it were, wasn’t cooked quite yet.
Because they had a key ally in the moves being orchestrated by the Atlantic Coast Conference to raid the Big East for new members.
“The biggest irony of the whole thing is that Tech probably wouldn’t be in the ACC if it weren’t for UVa. John Casteen really was the deciding vote,” said Bill Bolling, a Mechanicsville state senator who was elected lieutenant governor last week.
Casteen, the president of the University of Virginia, had made it clear early on in the discussions among ACC member schools in 2003 that he would not vote in favor of any expansion plan that did not include Virginia Tech. With two other schools – Duke and North Carolina – already standing opposed to any expansion, Casteen’s vote, by the conference’s bylaws, would have blocked the effort to grow the conference from coming to fruition.
“One thing that I think people don’t understand about this is the role that John Casteen played. His support was crucial to Virginia Tech being able to join the ACC,” said Larry Hincker, an associate vice president at Virginia Tech who was involved in the discussions two years ago that ended with Tech being added to the conference lineup.
“This was something that he passionately believed in,” Hincker told The Augusta Free Press. “It has been portrayed that there were political machinations behind the scenes that forced his hand. But the fact of the matter is that he had long thought that Virginia Tech should be a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and this was long before the conference decided to try to expand to 12 teams.”
An attempt to reach Casteen for comment for this story was unsuccessful. A spokesperson for the UVa. president told the AFP that the story of Virginia Tech’s inclusion in the ACC expansion is “old news.”
It could be more that there is still a sizable number of longtime University of Virginia supporters – alums and athletics boosters both – who aren’t happy with the idea that it was Virginia that brought its archrival to the promised land of college sports.
“Terry Holland said it best. He said as far as the conference goes, it was probably the right decision. But as far as Virginia goes, we definitely didn’t want to see it. Because we had a chance to keep the edge on Virginia Tech,” Mac McDonald, the play-by-play voice of University of Virginia sports, told the AFP.
“A lot of the talk is about the job that Mark (Warner) did and I did others did on behalf of Virginia Tech. What gets overlooked is the role that John Casteen played in this. The way the votes were going down, he could have voted in favor of the original expansion and left Virginia Tech on the outside looking in. But he held his ground to have Tech included in the expansion plans,” said Tim Kaine, the current lieutenant governor of Virginia who was elected last week to succeed Mark Warner as governor in January.
“It was a classic political move on his part, and it had to be tough, to stand up like he did to support the rival school. There weren’t a lot of UVa. supporters and alums who wanted to see this happen, but he made it happen,” Kaine told the AFP.
Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage showcased the sensitivity over the issue in his to-the-point response to a question regarding feedback from alumni on the move to bring Virginia Tech into the ACC fold.
“I’ve not heard any additional feedback. Look, Virginia Tech is in the conference. They’ve brought a great deal to the conference. We have great respect for them. And we believe they have great respect for us. And as members of the ACC, we will work together, we will compete hard against each other, and we are where we are,” Littlepage told the AFP.
Detractors of the push to include Virginia Tech in the expansion wanted to see the ACC stick with the original plans laid out by conference commissioner John Swofford – which had Boston College, Miami and Syracuse being added to the roster.
Boston College and Miami were targets because both could expand the conference footprint. For its part, Syracuse, which was ultimately left out of the expansion, was important, according to the conventional wisdom, because of its supposed pull in the New York City media market.
“One of the things that we tried to tell people early on in the process was that, one, the notion that Syracuse was going to bring the attention of New York to the ACC was a bit farfetched, because the simple fact of the matter is that Syracuse doesn’t get the attention of New York City even now. I mean, they won the basketball national title a couple of years ago, and it barely registered a blip on the New York media scene,” Hincker said.
“We also emphasized that Virginia Tech is the media darling of ESPN, and the exposure that the school has been able to get over the years from ESPN and other sources would be a benefit to the conference, in addition to the fact that our teams travel well,” Hincker said.
Tech’s teams also compete well – though, again, pointing to the detractors, it had been said that outside of football, Virginia Tech athletics was not at all ready for prime time elsewhere.
“We’ve exceeded our expectations, no question about it,” said Jim Weaver, the athletics director at Virginia Tech.
“We were fortunate enough in our first year in the ACC to win the football championship, and Frank Beamer was named coach of the year. And then in men’s basketball, we finished fourth, got a first-round bye in the ACC tournament, and Seth Greenberg was named coach of the year. In women’s soccer, we had our first winning season ever and went to the NCAA tournament, and had the freshman of the year in the ACC in Ashley Stinson. In addition to that, in track, we had our first two individual national champions ever for any sport at Virginia Tech.
“I think our first year exceeded our expectations,” Weaver said. “And as far as the first couple of months of the second year, we’re right in the thick of the battle in football. Our men’s soccer team is seeded 12th in the NCAA tournament. We beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. We beat Virginia in Charlottesville. We lost a heartbreaker to number-two nationally ranked Maryland in double overtime.
“The move for Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference has been something that’s been very beneficial to our institution, and probably the best thing that’s ever happened to the university, both academically and athletically,” Weaver told the AFP.
“There has been a very strong link between the institutions generally, and this has certainly strengthened the link between the two schools in terms of the athletics,” Littlepage said of Virginia Tech’s membership in the ACC.
“We also see a number of different opportunities for the institutions to collaborate on a number of different things that are mutually beneficial to the institutions, and as well are beneficial to the Commonwealth. It’s a great thing from a director of athletics point of view to see where athletics is facilitating the sort of cooperation and collaboration that we have seen and will see in the future,” Littlepage said.
“Athletically, it is a good fit. But one of the things that predates Virginia Tech’s entry into the ACC from an athletics perspective is the close ties that the school has with a number of ACC member institutions,” Hincker said.
“Just a few months before the ACC expansion, for example, there was the announcement about the creation of the Wake Forest-Virginia Tech school of biomedical engineering. Then there was the partnership with the National Aerospace Institute where we were named the lead university on a project involving the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and North Carolina A&T, all of which, except for North Carolina A&T, are ACC member schools.
“The point is that we already had an awful lot in common with ACC schools already. Dr. Casteen noted that, and from a geopolitical standpoint, that was really the linchpin for the whole thing,” Hincker said.
“The constituency of Virginia Tech longed for membership in the ACC for many, many, many years,” Weaver said. “Everybody realizes that it’s such a positive move, mainly because we’re right smack dab in the middle of the geographic footprint. And we’re now in a bus league and out of an airplane league.”
“It’s great for Virginia Tech to be in the ACC,” Bolling told the AFP. “It’s a quality conference, and they’re a quality program. The Big East was a quality conference, too, but everybody knew if you lose Miami, you lose Syracuse, you lose Boston College, the quality of the Big East was going to go down. So clearly Tech didn’t want to remain in the Big East. They wanted to be in the ACC. It’s been good for them, and good for the conference.”