Tech to Increase Women's Hoops Funding
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 4/29/02
When Virginia Tech women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson interviewed with Vanderbilt recently, many assumed that it was because she might be looking for more money for herself. That was only half right.
Henrickson was indeed looking for more money, but not necessarily for herself. She was looking for more funding for her basketball program, and according to a recent Roanoke Times article by Mark Berman, she'll get it.
Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver agreed to increase funding for the Tech women's program by $78,000, in important areas such as travel, recruiting, assistant coaches' salaries, and general operational expenses. The increases break down as follows:
Travel: Increasing the travel budget enables the team to take some charter jets instead of public flights, particularly to Big East road games. In the Berman article, Henrickson spoke of getting up at 5:00 in the morning to catch a flight in Roanoke, traveling all day, and then practicing at night, leading to fatigue.
Charter flights, particularly if taken out of Blacksburg instead of Roanoke (the article was not clear on this), would cut down on travel time drastically. If this leads to just one or two more wins a year, it can make all the difference in the world.
This year, the Hokies finished 18-10 in the regular season, 9-7 (6th) in the Big East. They had a regular-season RPI rating of 35th and were the highest-RPI team to not make the NCAA tournament. Particularly damaging were late-season road losses to Miami (5th in the Big East at 10-6) and Villanova (4th in the Big East at 12-4).
Tech was probably one win away from making the NCAA tournament, and if better travel conditions had gotten them that one win, it could have been the difference. Tech fans enjoyed having the team play in the WNIT, but rest assured, the coaching staff and players were not satisfied with that and wanted an NCAA bid.
Recruiting: A higher recruiting budget enables the Hokies to cast a wider recruiting net, and that is critical to fielding a national-caliber team. This season, of Tech's 14 scholarship players entering the season, 11 were from Virginia and the nearby states of Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Only three players -- Lisa Guarneri (NJ), Fran Recchia (TX), and Chrystal Starling (NY) -- were not from neighboring or nearby states. Henrickson spoke of recruiting more in Texas, Florida, and Ohio, and if she wants to compete with Big East heavyweights UConn and Notre Dame, a larger recruiting area is necessary.
Salaries: The $18,000 figure doesn't include an increase in Henrickson's salary ( though one is coming). It applies specifically to her assistants.
At the end of the 2000-2001 season, there was some shakeup in Henrickson's staff, and the dividends appear to have been immediate. At times this season, the Hokies did more with less talent than many of the teams they played, and Ieva Kublina improved by leaps and bounds from her freshman to her sophomore year. At least some of that credit has to go to the assistant coaches.
Not to mention that recruiting, which had been mediocre at best under Henrickson, hit a half-court shot this year. The Hokies signed a top-15 four-player class in the fall (Dawn Chriss, Kerri Gardin, Maggie Griesser and Carrie Mason), including two top-50 players (McDonald's All-American Chriss and NC's Gatorade Player of the Year in Gardin), and added a JUCO All-American last week. Again, much of the credit for that goes to the assistant coaches.
To keep those coaches, it takes more money. That's a page from Frank Beamer's book, and it applies here.
Operational Expenses: Berman notes that the $15,000 extra here will go towards "increased meal and hotel costs that come if Henrickson carries 14 or 15 players."
Entering the 1999-2000 season, the Hokies had 11 players on the roster, although NCAA rules allow 15 players on scholarship. The following season, it was again 11 players, and this past season, it was up to 14.
Tech graduated four players this year: Lisa Guarneri, Sarah Hicks, Nicole Jones, and Mollie Owings. Christina Strother and Kacy O'Brien are transferring or were dismissed for disciplinary reasons (or both, information is not readily available). With the five incoming recruits, this will reduce the roster to 13, barring further attrition or additional recruits.
One benefit of an extra $15,000 isn't just covering the cost of additional players, but of taking care of the team as a whole in better fashion. If the travel accommodations and meals are substandard, the word will get out that Virginia Tech doesn't take good care of its players, and the good recruits will go somewhere else, where the treatment is better, like UConn or Tennessee.
Not All About Salary
As anyone who follows college sports will tell you, it's not just a coach or players that make you successful. It's all the other little and not so little things. TSL sources had been telling us that if there was a bone of contention between Bonnie Henrickson and Virginia Tech -- if there was a reason she was willing to listen to overtures from Ohio State and Vanderbilt -- it was not so much her own salary as it was her assistant's salaries and program support in general.
Henrickson now has that increased financial support, and she and the Virginia Tech women's basketball fans hope that it is enough to push the program over the hump and towards the success they achieved in the 1999 Sweet 16 season, when they went 28-3.