Weaver Makes Waves in Roanoke
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 6/9/98

Last week, a bit of a controversy erupted in the Roanoke media over Tech and UVa's announced plans to hold future men's basketball games in Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Richmond, ... and not Roanoke.  When the plan was announced (see the Friday, May 29 update of News and Notes), not only did The Richmond Times-Dispatch get the scoop instead of the Roanoke paper, but Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver was not kind in some comments that he made about the last UVa/Tech game in the Roanoke Civic Center, in January of 1998.  As the RT-D put it:

Their most recent meeting was January 12 at the Roanoke Civic Center, where UVa won, 69-55 before one of the smallest crowds in the series' recent history.  That was Weaver's first experience with the game as the Hokies' AD, and he wasn't impressed.   Several snafus marred the game, among them parking and traffic problems outside the arena, and a malfunctioning shot clock inside.

"I was really not pleased with the facility in Roanoke," Weaver said, "and I called Terry Holland the next day and said, 'We need to discuss this,' and we did ... This is a better option (than playing in Roanoke)."

As you can imagine, that didn't sit well with Roanoke Civic Center officials, Hokie fans in Roanoke, and, as we discovered this past Sunday, the Roanoke print media.   The resulting uproar has grown in stature due mainly to two articles that appeared in The Roanoke Times and World News (RTWN) in the last week.

Civic Center Manager Caught Off-Guard (One Wonders Why)

The first RTWN article to fan the flames of a growing controversy detailed the response of Roanoke Civic Center Manager Jim Evans to Weaver's comments:

Tech defection a "surprise' to civic center boss - RTWN, Thursday, June 4th.

For the most part, I thought Evans's comments were even-handed, but there is one quote by Evans that just floored me:

"He (Weaver) indicated that he sat in traffic, himself, for 40-some minutes," Evans said. "He was really concerned about that. He ought to try and sit in the traffic for one of those football crowds they have out there (at Tech). That's part of the business when you go to a major event."

This quote makes my jaw drop for three reasons:

(1) Evans acknowledges indirectly that traffic problems did exist, but he glosses them over, saying in effect, "Hey - it happens everywhere." Never mind that it doesn't happen everywhere, and never mind that he's comparing 50,000 fans in the town of Blacksburg for a football game to 6,500 fans in the city of Roanoke for a basketball game.

(2) I have never sat still in traffic for a Hokie football game for 45 minutes, and I probably never will. And I've been to plenty of games in Cassell Coliseum where the crowd ranged between 6,500 and10,000, and no matter how big the crowd is, the Blacksburg police can clear out Cassell's parking lots in 15 minutes or less - with very little time spent sitting still.

(3) Evans completely discounts the opinion of the most powerful man in Virginia Tech sports. He has just lost an event that his Civic Center has been hosting for about two decades, and instead of contacting Mr. Weaver and trying to set things right, he instead says, "Who cares what you think?" thus ensuring that as long as Mr. Weaver and Mr. Evans are both in power, Tech won't be playing in the Civic Center. We have a term for that where I come from. It's called BAD BUSINESS. Ask any of the HokieCentral members if I've ever given them that much attitude when they had a complaint. The answer will be a flat "No."

I am stunned that a man with Evans's attitude holds such an important position. Customer service is a central focal point of this man's job, but yet his attitude towards the traffic and parking situation is, "Too bad. Take it or leave it, because that's the way it is."

Okay, we'll leave it.

If I did my job as poorly as Evans and crew did theirs, and then had the audacity to discount my customer's complaints with a dismissive wave of my hand, I would be fired within short order. Most of us would. Instead, Mr. Evans went on public record in a newspaper with one of the most absurd quotes I've ever heard from someone in his position. This man should be busting his employees' butts for doing such a poor job and seeking ways to improve the situation, not telling his customers to put up with unacceptable service.

Bogaczyk Throws More Gas on the Fire

So to this point, what we've got is a disagreement between two men - Jim Weaver and Jim Evans. Suffice to say that these two won't be inviting each other over to dinner.

But then Jack Bogaczyk of The Roanoke Times had to get into it and blow it up into a Weaver vs. Roanoke issue.

This past Sunday, Jack ran an opinion piece in the RTWN under the contentious headline "Weaver Needs Remedial Help in PR Skills." He blasted Tech's AD for a full 20 inches of column space, saying in effect that Mr. Weaver has alienated a city that Virginia Tech sports needs in order to succeed.

Let's just say that when you go on record as saying that someone needs "remedial" help, you're not looking to make friends with that person. It's not clear if Bogaczyk or someone else at the RTWN wrote the headline, but it doesn't matter. That headline immediately makes the statement that the rest of the article isn't going to be friendly:

Weaver Needs Remedial Help in PR Skills - Jack Bogaczyk, RTWN, Sunday, June 7, 1998

I'm willing to concede some points to Jack on this one. Perhaps Jim Weaver did shoot from the hip a little too quickly on this issue (more on that later). But I noticed three things about Jack's opinion piece:

(1) Although this flap over the Civic Center has been going on for over a week, Jack waited until Sunday - a newspaper's highest circulation day - to rip Weaver. Jack saves the Roanoke Express, Salem Avalanche, and NASCAR articles for mid-week, goes for weeks without even mentioning Virginia Tech, and then rips into Tech's AD on the high-exposure day of Sunday.

Jack didn't want this one getting lost in the mid-week rush. He wanted the casual Sunday paper reader, the one who reads the newspaper cover-to-cover, to see this article. Not too subtle.

(2) In the midst of ripping Jim Weaver for nearly two feet of column space, Bogaczyk never once torches the Roanoke Civic Center for January's miserable performance. He only makes passing reference to the ridiculous traffic jam that night, excusing it by calling it a "predictable traffic jam."  By not mentioning - in an opinion piece - what a horrible job the Civic Center did, and focusing on Jim Weaver instead, Jack is implicitly placing blame for this mess squarely on the shoulders of Jim Weaver.

(3) As one HokieCentral message board poster so adroitly pointed out, Jack Bogaczyk, with his article, turned this issue from a two-man battle into Jim Weaver vs. The City of Roanoke.

Don't drag the entire city of Roanoke into this, Jack. Mr. Weaver moved the game for a multitude of reasons, none of which were "I don't like Roanoke." His concerns included the mounting Hokie-fan outcry over the neutral site games and a poor performance by the Roanoke Civic Center. Mr. Weaver was looking out for Virginia Tech athletics and listening to Hokie fans, not planning to create a rift with Roanoke.

There's More Going on Here Than a Traffic Jam

I think it's apparent that Evans and Bogaczyk don't exactly blow me away with their complete dismissal of and acceptance of the Civic Center's subpar performance.

But to concentrate on a bad night in traffic, and to assume that that's the only issue here, trivializes the points that Bogaczyk brought up in his article. I admit that I'm not focusing on all of the issues when I complain endlessly about the traffic jam that night and rip Mr. Evans for his foolish statement.

The issue here is Tech's relationship with Roanoke - what it is right now, and where it's going from here. And from that standpoint, Jack Bogaczyk does have one good point: Jim Weaver didn't do anything to help the situation.

Perhaps Mr. Weaver fired from the hip when he dismissed the Roanoke Civic Center so easily, without so much as a phone call or a warning. Maybe, as many people have suggested, he should have just said, "Virginia Tech would rather have the games on campus," instead of criticizing the Civic Center's performance that fateful January night.

Had Mr. Weaver avoided the comments on the Civic Center, then this discussion would have centered around the issues of on-campus games versus neutral site games. But when the plan to play in Blacksburg, Richmond, and Charlottesville was announced, coupled with Weaver's justified criticism of the Roanoke Civic Center, then the Civic Center's manager understandably "took it personally," so to speak. From there, it was one small step for Bogaczyk to blow the issue into gigantic proportions with his opinion piece.

So maybe Mr. Weaver could have played it a little better from a public policy standpoint. But you have to consider the kind of person that Jim Weaver is. His very bluntness is one of the things that Hokie fans love about him. His predecessor, Dave Braine, was an excellent AD, but he had his shortcomings, one of which was an annoying tendency to verbally dance around issues and not answer questions directly.

You were never quite sure how much Dave was B.S.'ing you when he talked to you. Take the out-of-conference football scheduling issue (please). For years, Dave told us how hard it was to schedule good football opponents, and for years, he led us to believe it was a nearly impossible task. Jim Weaver has obliterated that theory in less than a year by signing up both Clemson and Texas A&M to home-and-home series.

With Jim Weaver, there's no B.S. He's a straight shooter. If you can't handle the truth, then don't listen to what he has to say.

Another characteristic of Jim Weaver that has surfaced in this exchange is his intolerance of ineptitude (and ineptitude was certainly on display at the Roanoke Civic Center that night). It is this very personality trait that will push Virginia Tech athletics and the Virginia Tech athletic department to new heights under his direction.

This man does not settle for "business as usual," and the traffic jam and other problems at the Civic Center that night were exactly that - business as usual. Whereas others may be willing to tolerate it, evidenced by Bogaczyk's comment about the "predictable traffic jam," Jim Weaver will not tolerate it. If you want Jim Weaver to play nice, don't screw up your job, anger his Hokie constituents, and then treat it nonchalantly like "business as usual."

Does anyone out there want to know why Jim Weaver didn't call up the Civic Center people to let them know that they were being dropped? I'm betting it's because they didn't call up to apologize for the mess last January. They screwed the job up, and then didn't even acknowledge that fact with a small phone call. I'd be tempted to drop them like a hot potato, too, and as a matter of fact, I did, complaining long and loud on HokieCentral the next day that I would NEVER go to another game there again. It appears that Mr. Weaver felt the same way that I did.

The More Things Change ...

The attitudes displayed by Evans and Bogaczyk are very much "You need us - we don't need you." The last quote of Jack's article ("Roanoke will be a hockey town, not a Hokie town") is at worst a thinly-veiled threat, and at best merely the type of word play that some writers seem enamored with (or, if you prefer, "with which some writers seem enamored.")

One thing I don't pretend to understand is the history of the relationship between Virginia Tech and Roanoke, in particular the Roanoke sports media. I didn't pay much (if any) attention to The Roanoke Times when I was a Tech student in the mid-80's, but I hear that Bill Brill, who was the sports editor at the time, was an ACC-enamored, UNC-loving, Tech-bashing, Dooley-despising type who rarely let a complimentary word about the Hokies appear in his newspaper. Brill certainly didn't do anything, directly or indirectly, to create excitement among Roanoke residents to follow the Hokies (not that I think that was Brill's job - it wasn't).

One thing is clear to me, though. Despite its proximity to Blacksburg, Roanoke has never been, and probably will never be, a "Tech town." This is probably due at least in part to Bill Brill and the foundation that he set, but the oppressive presence of UVa also has a lot to do with it, as any local resident will tell you.  I can't count the number of times I've seen the commercials for Curtis Staples's upcoming basketball camp, and Tiki and Ronde Barber's upcoming football camp.  The commercials, of course, are complete with plenty of UVa highlights, and they're running constantly on the TV stations in Roanoke.

In Roanoke, the Hokies and the Hoos receive about equal coverage, and as we all know, you can forget it in the rest of the state. It's UVa all the way.

It looks like that's going to go on for a little while longer, but, as many Hokies have pointed out in the last few days, what's new and different about that? I don't think that Roanoke and the Roanoke media "have it in" for Tech, but I will certainly acknowledge that they don't do the Hokies any favors.

Nor do Hokie fans do themselves any favors with their constant complaining and berating of the very media that they count on for coverage. Some of the things that were said about Jack Bogaczyk on the message board the last couple of days aren't likely to make him start wearing orange and maroon underwear any time soon. Jack Bogaczyk ain't no Bill Brill, but he's not a "homer" like I am, either, nor will he ever be.

So once again, here we are. And it's business as usual, the very thing that Jim Weaver dislikes. But in this case, perhaps that's all right. I don't think that in the long run, one column by Jack Bogaczyk - or me, for that matter - is going to make any difference at all.


TSL Columnists Archives

TSL Home