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"Dream" Weaver?  Not Lately.
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 9/6/00

A couple of Jim Weaver's decisions lately, and his unsatisfactory explanations of them, have me wondering if he thinks Virginia Tech fans are stupid. I'm hearing a lot of double-talk from the Virginia Tech Athletic Director that leaves me wondering what he's really thinking.

As athletic director, Weaver makes decisions all day long, some of which are bound to be unpopular. He has the right to make his decisions, and Hokie fans have the right to approve or disapprove. But how an AD handles his announcement and explanation of unpopular decisions tells you a lot about him, and I don't like what Weaver's handling of two recent decisions tells me.

In the last two months, Jim Weaver has reinstated defensive end Derrius Monroe to the football team for practices, despite the fact that Monroe pled guilty to felony cocaine possession, and he has decided not to reschedule the canceled BCA game, despite previous statements that indicated he was all for playing the game on December 1st.

Both decisions were met with vocal disapproval from many HokieCentral.com readers and message board posters, and both decisions are met with disapproval by me personally. And I think Weaver's explanations of his decisions were sorely lacking, and even insulting.

 

The Case of Derrius Monroe

The first decision Jim Weaver made that angered many Virginia Tech fans and alumni occurred when he reinstated defensive end Derrius Monroe to the team for practices. Monroe is still suspended from playing, but he is now working out with the team.

It was first reported back in February that Monroe was arrested for felony cocaine distribution. In compliance with Virginia Tech's Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP), a document that governs the behavior of Virginia Tech athletes, Monroe was immediately suspended from the team.

On August 4th, Monroe finally appeared in court, and as part of a plea bargain agreement, pled guilty to cocaine possession, still a felony charge. The CAP is very clear on the outcome in this situation. In section IV of the CAP, "Sanctions for Inappropriate Behavior Among Student Athletes," it says (the emphasis is mine):

Felony Conviction - Any student-athlete convicted of or pleading guilty or no contest to a felony charge or a game fixing charge under Virginia law or any other jurisdictional equivalent shall be permanently dismissed from the team. The athlete shall retain his/her grant-in-aid for the balance of the academic year.

Monroe's case was a little unusual in that his conviction is deferred, meaning that if he complies with certain requirements laid out for him, including community service, for two years, his record will be cleared, and the felony conviction will never appear on it.

That little opening was enough to make Jim Weaver think twice, and whatever it was he thought about, he decided to reinstate Monroe for practices, but not games. Here's what he said at the time, as quoted in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article:

"His reinstatement for competition will be at my discretion, pending weekly reviews of his academics as well as his personal conduct," Weaver said. "That decision will rest in my hands. There is no cause for him, according to the legal opinion of the university general counsel, to be permanently suspended from the athletics department."

Furthermore:

"We did not, I repeat did not violate the Comprehensive Action Plan. A lot of review and discussion went into this. It was decided that this is the decision that does best by Derrius Monroe at this point."

So how did Weaver rationalize that the CAP was not violated, given that Monroe did indeed plead guilty to a felony? By invoking this statement of the CAP (once again, the emphasis is mine):

Felony Charge - Any student-athlete arrested and charged with a felony, or with a crime involving gambling or game fixing under Virginia law or any other jurisdictional equivalent, shall be suspended automatically from practice and playing privileges until the charges are dropped, dismissed or otherwise resolved. The student-athlete may appeal this decision pursuant to the Appeals Procedure found in this Handbook.

You guessed it -- the resolution to Monroe's case is classified as "otherwise resolved," according to a statement Weaver made on the Monday, August 21st edition of "The Hokie Hotline" radio show.

Newport News Daily Press columnist David Teel artfully called Weaver's decision a "Clintonian parsing" of words that "violates the spirit of Virginia Tech's policy." I couldn't have said it better myself, because the CAP intended for those who pled guilty to a felony to be dismissed.

More from the Richmond Times-Dispatch article:

Weaver has no timetable for when, or if, Monroe will play in 2000. "I couldnít care less if Derrius Monroe ever plays football again," Weaver said. "The bottom line is, this is a young man who is 31 hours away from graduation. He came here as a nonqualifier and in three years he has put himself in that position. I believe he will graduate from Virginia Tech.

"His conduct will be subject to constant review. I will meet with Derrius and his academic adviser on a weekly basis. Mr. Monroe knows there is a zero-tolerance policy now in effect with regard to his personal conduct."

The comments about Monroe being only 31 hours away from a degree, implying that that played a major part in Weaver's decision to reinstate him, is extremely questionable. As the quote from the CAP above specifies, a permanently suspended athlete still retains his or her grant-in-aid for the balance of the academic year, which means that Monroe could be removed permanently from the team and still go to classes and get his degree -- for free.

All Weaver had to do was wait until the semester started to announce Monroe's removal from the team, and Monroe would be free and clear for the rest of the academic year, plenty of time to get the 31 credits he needs to graduate.

I suspect that Weaver's reinstatement has much, much more to do with his fear of Monroe's deferred-conviction situation being a possible loophole that could be used to sue Tech if he were to remove Monroe from the team, as the CAP specifies he must do. The feel-good language about wanting Monroe to get his degree is just a smoke screen to cover the fact that Weaver is ignoring the CAP.

As for his comments about a zero-tolerance policy now being in effect for Monroe? It already was, in the form of the CAP. If I've ever seen a zero-tolerance policy, the CAP is it.

A recent HokieCentral.com poll showed that a clear majority of fans donít want Monroe back on the team. So if Jim Weaver really does care about Derrius Monroe getting his degree, and that was his reason for reinstating him, then he has made a grievous error by caring more about the future of one football player than he does about the thousands of Hokie fans who (a) donate millions of dollars to the Tech athletic fund, and (b) now have to explain to the guy in the cubicle next to them at work why a player who pled guilty to a felony is on the Tech football team.

And Jim Weaver cares more about that one football player than he does about the honor and integrity of an entire university? If that's the case, then Weaver's priorities are misplaced. Either that, or he's not telling us the real reason he reinstated Monroe.

 

The BCA Game Cancellation -- and the Ensuing Snow Job

By now, you all know the story -- the original BCA game between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, scheduled for Sunday August 27th, was postponed by lightning. Very early in the following week, the BCA, Tech, and ESPN all agreed to a Friday, December 1st make-up date and held Georgia Tech's feet to the fire, but the Yellow Jackets refused to give in and walked away, saying that they didn't want to play the game.

Weaver's quotes immediately after the game postponement came from a man who seemed to be willing to play anyone, any time, anywhere. Just one day after the lightning storm, on Monday, August 28th, Weaver was quoted in an Excite Sports article as saying:

"We're willing to play the game the first weekend of December to honor our commitment," Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver told SportsLine.com earlier Monday. "...We made a commitment to play. We ought to live up to our commitment and give our fans what they paid for."

The following day, in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article, his opinion hadn't changed, and he reportedly even said that Tech would be willing to play a team other than Georgia Tech, if necessary:

Weaver reiterated yesterday that the Hokies' position hadn't changed. "We had more than 56,000 fans there and 52,000 of them were ours, so we might have a different perspective [than Georgia Tech]," Weaver said. "It's out of our hands. We're willing to play the game."

Weaver said Virginia Tech would be willing to meet another opponent, but Giles (Gazelle group) doesn't see that as a possibility. "That would be very difficult to accomplish," he (Giles) said.

But on Friday, September 1st, Virginia Tech officially turned down the opportunity to play in a rescheduled BCA game, against most likely TCU. The press release from Virginia Tech was vague on reasons why Virginia Tech, which had been anxious to play the game, would suddenly decide to back out:

"To extend our season an additional week for a contest that will now expose our student athletes and fans to an entirely new set of unknown circumstances is not in the best interest of the Virginia Tech football program and this university," Weaver said. "We are deeply sorry that the weather forced the cancellation of the BCA Bowl. Now we have to do what we feel is best for our program and fans."

So sometime between Tuesday's Richmond Times-Dispatch article and the press release that following Friday, Jim Weaver changed his mind. And in fact, he changed it much earlier than that. The Friday press release also contains the following quote from Weaver:

"I had made it clear on Wednesday to both Gazelle and ESPN that if Georgia Tech could not play it was highly unlikely Virginia Tech would play on Dec. 1."

The decision not to play the game was met with a firestorm of negative commentary on the HokieCentral.com message board and emails to Weaver from Virginia Tech fans, many of whom saw the sudden shift in gears and felt that they hadn't been told the real reasons why.

As athletic director, Jim Weaver has every right to make decisions such as this. But as an athletic director whose multi-million dollar program is run largely from funds received from donations made by alumni and tickets purchased by fans, he also has a responsibility to communicate his reasons clearly and openly to his fans.

So he has decided not to play the December 1st game, probably after hearing input from the Virginia Tech coaching staff and perhaps other sources. Then what happened to the statement "We ought to live up to our commitment and give our fans what they paid for"?

How convenient that when Weaver wanted to play the game, he invoked the commitment to the fans, but when he decided for whatever reason to pass on it, that "commitment to the fans" is expected to be forgotten. He never once apologized to the fans for not meeting that commitment, despite being given a clear opportunity to do so (in case you missed it, the BCA was interested in scheduling Tech to play Texas Christian, and TCU AD Eric Hyman was all but drooling at the thought of playing Virginia Tech)

Instead, he compounded the problem in the press release by invoking the fans in an entirely different manner, saying that his decision was best for them:

"To extend our season an additional week for a contest that will now expose our student athletes and fans to an entirely new set of unknown circumstances is not in the best interest of the Virginia Tech football program and this university," Weaver said. "We are deeply sorry that the weather forced the cancellation of the BCA Bowl. Now we have to do what we feel is best for our program and fans."

The vague statement about "exposing athletes and fans to an entirely new set of unknown circumstances" is mystifying. It's a football game -- Tech has 6 of them a year. It's not a trek through the Andes, a climb up Mount Everest, or a trip into outer space.

Why in the world were those reasons -- an additional week and "unknown circumstances" -- not a concern when the opponent was Georgia Tech, but once the Yellow Jackets backed out, they suddenly became the publicly-acknowledged reasons for refusing to play?

That doesn't make any sense, and to assume that a reasonable person would read that quote and take it on faith is insulting.

And who said that not playing the game was "best for the fans"? The fans want to see a Tech football game, be it in person or on TV. Of course, many ticket holders won't be able to make it to a rematch in person, but there would be plenty of local fans willing to step in and attend the game.

Not only that, but now Virginia Tech fans, who have for years taken abuse for Virginia Tech's weak football scheduling practices, have to deal with a clearly documented case where they backed down when a suitable -- and strong -- opponent was ready to play.

No, I'm pretty sure that what was "best for the fans" was to play the game. And there's a recent HokieCentral.com home page poll that clearly supports the view that the fans, at least those who visit this web site, wanted to play the game.

More than likely, Virginia Tech decided to pass on the game due to concerns from the coaching staff and the difficulties presented in trying to reschedule. For example, how in the world do you figure out who gets to attend the make-up game? Do you take GT ticket stubs as admission, do you try to mail new tickets to everyone who bought tickets for the GT game, or do you just sell a whole new set of tickets?

Lastly, Jim Weaver has never shied away from passing on the costs of running a big-time program to his faithful fans. Increased ticket prices, parking fees, you name it, the Virginia Tech AD has made some unpopular decisions and has stuck his hand in the pockets of VT fans on many occasions. It's all part of running a top-notch athletic program, we've been told.

But now he's passing up an opportunity to make a guaranteed minimum $600,000 because it's not "best for our program and fans"? As if parking fees (which make an estimated $188,000 for the athletic department, not even one-third of what the BCA game would have brought in) are "best for our program and fans"?

No, I'm not buying any of those "reasons" for refusing to play the game, because I donít believe them. I want to hear some straight talk. And I'd like to hear some straight talk on the Monroe situation, too, because I'm not stupid, even if the athletic director seems to think I am.

And I have one more piece of advice for Mr. Weaver: stop listening so much to your accountants and lawyers, and start listening to your fans. Your accountants and lawyers might be pleased with your decisions, but a large portion of the fan base is not. And they want explanations, not smoke screens and double-talk.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and generally runs the place with his prodigious and productive brain.

          

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