I remember contemplating in high school what kind of college I would like to attend. Growing up, sports was part of my life, a big part. And like any normal teenage boy, I wanted to attend a school that gave me the opportunity to have sports remain a top priority. Football games with 80,000 people screaming and hollering, and packing the gym to the rafters with 10,000 rabid fans; this was my dream. So it’s kind of funny I chose Tech when I did.
It was 1993 and the reasons that make the decision funny are this: a football program that was coming off a 2-8-1 season, with not much to be happy about, and a basketball program coming off several losing seasons in a row.
There wasn’t much tradition at Tech as far as high profile sports programs go. Sure there was Bruce Smith and some bowl games throughout the years. And the basketball team had NIT and NCAA banners hanging inside the Cassell along side Bimbo Coles’ retired number. But Virginia Tech was "middle of the road". They weren’t Penn State or Ohio State or Florida or Tennessee. They were in a couple of conferences, the Big East and Metro, which were in the upper echelon of collegiate sports, but by no means the cream of the crop.
Fast forward through all the events of my college life to now, and our beloved Hokies are making it known that they’d rather not rent the penthouse, but own it and stay awhile. It borders on the cusp of fantasy to think of what Virginia Tech has done over the past seven years…SEVEN years! Think about that. A lot can happen (or not happen) in that amount of time, and Tech has turned a perennial snoozer into one of the country’s fastest rising and most exciting stories anybody has seen in quite some time.
Think about this for a second. Only a few weeks ago, Michael Vick was standing on stage with the likes of Tiger Woods, Kurt Warner and Michael Johnson. The worlds best golfer, the Super Bowl and NFL MVP, and perhaps the fastest man on the planet, not to mention multiple Gold Medal winner, all on stage with our wonderful quarterback.
It was guys like these that came up to Michael Vick at the post-ESPY parties and said things like, "You were incredible this year…I had a blast watching you play." Or how about, "Seeing the things you did on the field this year were magical. I am really looking forward to watching you next year on the football field." High praise, don’t you think?
It’s moments like these that I cherish. And from the moment I was a freshmen at Tech until right now, the sports program has gone from rags to riches…or at least that’s how it seems. But through all the winning and success of our football teams, our men’s and women’s basketball teams, our track teams and our swimming teams, what type of effort does it take not only from coaches and players, but from fans and administration to keep the machine running?
Billions of dollars are spent every year on season tickets, apparel, equipment and countless other items, fueling the machine that we know as "sports". As fans, we cheer on our football team(s) on Saturdays and Sundays; go to basketball games a couple times a week; even witness hockey fights on a regular basis. But it is the money that we spend, either directly or indirectly that makes the sports machine go round. It hits us everywhere…even in Blacksburg, Virginia.
We have seen what a trip to the NIT Championship can do for a basketball team. We have seen what a trip to the Sugar Bowl to play for the national championship can do for a football team. We have seen what athletics in general can do to a university. It can be the difference between a so-so college and a great institution.
For those that are enrolled at Tech now or those who are alumni, we have seen and continue to see what athletic dollars do for our school. New athletic facilities to attract the country’s best. New dormitories to house students that want to come to Tech to be a part of a great community. New academic buildings that house some of the best equipment to help people better themselves. Of course, Tech receives money many different ways. But placing a winning product on the field and on the court further escalates the dollar amount the school has at its disposal.
Beginning next year, Virginia Tech will be an all-sports member of the Big East. Football, basketball, golf, track, swimming, archery, darts and anything else they play. For the pessimistic people out there, this will be losing season after losing season. Get ready, it’s basement city, baby! Everyone will gear up to play the Hokies because they can automatically chalk up the "W" (except of course in football). This is what most people will think about. However, a close look reveals what we’ve been yearning for for years, the chance to compete with the country’s best, in a conference that can furnish the opportunity in every sport. In essence, making Virginia Tech better at everything we do.
This isn’t meant to bash the Atlantic Ten, but our place is in the Big East. With the success of our football teams, and the up-and-coming status of our women’s and, hopefully, men’s basketball teams, a conference affiliation that allows our separate sports to feed off of one another is key. The impact that our major sports (football and basketball) have on the mid- and lower level sports (track, swimming, golf, etc.) is what makes our athletic program successful.
With respect to our football program, their success has allowed us to chase the dream of being in an all-sports conference and compete against schools with the same types of athletes, facilities and opportunities. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And on the football field, this is what Virginia Tech has done. It’s now time for the rest of the universities’ sports to follow suit. Our football team and the excitement it has caused are reason to believe it is attainable in all other university sports too.
Speaking of excitement, look at who will come to play in the coming years at Tech for basketball alone: the likes of Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown and Notre Dame. Not to knock John Chaney and Temple, but the amount of tradition with these schools and the amount of media exposure that we gain from playing established programs like these is immeasurable.
Georgetown has guys in their history with the names Ewing, Mourning and Mutumbo. Syracuse has guys like Douglas, Coleman and Wallace. Connecticut won the National Championship last year and is in the midst of their best run ever. Notre Dame needs no mention; they are quite possibly the best known school in the country.
Sure, winning isn’t going to be easy for a couple of years, but it is the influx of enthusiasm that will drive our entry into the conference. The enthusiasm that resonates from Lane Stadium will move into the Cassell, and that will mean more fans, more money and more fun. It won’t be about just competing anymore; it’ll be about the chance for fans to see some of the players that before they only got to see on TV. It’ll be about having the opportunity to cheer against a team that only a few years ago was the best in the land. It’ll be the thought of matching up our school, our Hokies, against the best the country has to offer.
We look at football like it is our game to lose. We have come so far, that now we believe we belong. Joining the Big East next season for all other sports will start us on the road to proving that not only are we a world class academic institution, but also one that will whip your tail in any sport you choose on any given day. And with all this newfound success comes the price of success. Higher ticket prices and memorabilia prices, longer waits and bigger lines. When the going’s good, everybody wants a piece. The great thing about sports is, as long as we’re winning, everybody will be able to reach for those extra dollars a little easier.
Greg Kehr is a Marketing Coordinator for Empire Sports in New York.
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