Monday, August 2, 1999

Jim Weaver and the Big East: Poker, Anyone?

Jim Weaver created quite a stir with some comments he made to media present at the Big East media day last week. As is Mr. Weaver's custom, he was blunt with his statements, and in some cases, amazingly blunt.

Essentially, Mr. Weaver said that instead of entering the Big East in all sports for the 2000-2001 season, Tech will probably delay entry into the conference until July 2001, which means that Tech would not compete in the Big East until the 2001-2002 season.

Both Weaver and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said that Tech and the Big East have agreed to financial terms, so that apparently is no longer an issue. An agreement could be finalized as early as this week, newspapers said.

Weaver gave two reasons for the delay: (1) it would reduce Tech's exit fee from the A-10 by $300,000, and, more importantly, (2) it would give the Miami/ACC situation time to work itself out, so the Hokies wouldn’t be jumping aboard a sinking ship.

There are links to a number of articles on the subject in HokiefromWV's July 30th archive of VT Hokie News, but here are a few of the quotes that Weaver gave to the press:

"It's no secret that if Miami should leave the Big East, it will change the landscape tremendously. Number one, and probably the most important one, is the fact that the Big East would probably not have access to the Bowl Championship Series. Plus, Miami drives probably three-fourths of the television package. If you lose the avenue to the BCS and lose your TV package, the Big East can't exist as we know it today. Then, basically, we've got a league just for scheduling purposes ... the value is not there."

"It makes no sense for us to start paying money [to the Big East], potentially lose it and not want to be somewhere, if what took us there in the first place -- football -- should cease to exist as we know it today."

"The best thing for everyone is for the ACC to remain at nine teams and for the Big East to remain as it is. I think there needs to be a moral approach to this whole thing. I don't think people can be out there just wrecking a conference. . . . At some point, you've got to have a moral concern about what you're doing.''

"Absolutely, the Big East is the best place for us. This is where we want to be."

There isn't a Hokie with half a brain who has a problem with any of the statements in that group of quotes. Certainly, as we have discussed ad nauseum here, Tech doesn't want to jump on board a sinking ship. The Big East invitation reportedly comes with a heavy entry fee and reduced revenue sharing, and if we're going to suffer those financial hits, we have to make sure that our investment is going to pay off.

One of the articles I saw said that Tech has negotiated the entry fee down significantly from its original figure, estimated to be anywhere from $1.5 to $2.0 million. If true, that’s great.

We have to be careful about the exit fees, though, because if Miami bolts the conference and the Hokies feel the need to find a home somewhere else, Tech will have to pay somewhere between $2.5 million and $3.5 million to leave the Big East football and basketball conferences, depending upon when the announcement to leave is made. Only $1.5 million of that is football exit fees. The rest is basketball exit fees.

If we stand pat and Miami bolts, and we wind up going somewhere else as well, then the football exit fee is all we have to pay. If we join now and Miami bolts, and we decide to leave, too, then we'll have to pony up perhaps twice that much or more. That just doesn't make sense.

And don't forget, after the 2000 football season, the Big East TV contract gets renegotiated, and if you think that's a key event in the history of the conference, then go to the head of the class, because you're right. As I said the other day, if the new contract is a fat one with Fox or ABC or even CBS, then the Big East will smile and be stronger. If the new contract is wimpy and results in a loss of bucks, then the flood gates might open, and the league might fall apart.

So it just makes sense to wait and see what will happen in the next two years. As you might imagine, I'm in Mr. Weaver's corner on that one. I've waited for 30+ years for all sports membership. I can wait a little more to make sure it's exactly what I want.

But along with the pragmatic, money-oriented comments, Mr. Weaver drop a few fire-bombs into the waiting tape recorders:

"If I'm an AD in the ACC, I'm fighting to go to 12. Because right now they have the chance to cherry-pick the best teams they want. Say, go with Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech. Now you've got more of the top-25 programs of the last six, eight, 10 years than any conference in America. Plus, you've taken control of one-third of the television sets in America [Big East TV market span]."

In addition to that comment, Weaver also acknowledged the fact that he talks often with the heads of the ACC, SEC, and Big 10 conferences. You can interpret his comments, if you are so inclined, to mean that Tech is currently a free agent of sorts in this ever-changing landscape, and would like to stay that way a little longer.

As you can imagine, Weaver's cherry-picking comment set off Big East fans and even a newspaper columnist or two. The fans of other Big East schools who have stopped by the message board to comment are spitting a little venom Tech's way. Of course they are, because number one, they're scared, and number two, they have no idea what it's like to be Virginia Tech.

Hey, folks, we've been kicked around for about 30 years now. We've been ignored, laughed at, sneered at, and even stabbed in the back. Forgive us if we don't lick the Big East's hand at the first opportunity.

Continuing with the pet motif, have you ever approached a dog or cat that has been a stray for life, smiled at it, and said, "Here, boy!" only to have it growl at you or run away? So it goes with Virginia Tech. We know better than any school in the country that an open hand extended in friendship can roll up quickly into a fist.

Those of us who have been around Tech sports for decades understand that mindset and possess it fully. How Jim Weaver, an administrator who has worked around the country for years, picked it up in just two years at Tech is part of what makes him a great athletic director for Virginia Tech.

I mean, think about it. The guy was hired to do one job - get us into an all-sports conference. But when he gets the first chance, he doesn't just pull the trigger on it, stand back, and say, "There! Mission accomplished!" What does that tell you? In poker parlance, it tells you that it's better to just hold 'em for now.

The nastiest media response to Weaver's comments and his decision to delay entry was penned by Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette:

Tech in, Tech out: Big East may not dance with pokey Hokies

As my esteemed colleagues on the message board pointed out, what Dave and the irate fans of opposing schools are failing to realize is that their anger is misdirected. They're scared and upset at the Miami Hurricanes, not the Hokies, but since Miami athletic director Paul Dee is mum on the subject and skipped media day, and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has his head in the sand, the quivering masses are throwing rocks at the only guy in the room who has the guts to stand up and call it like it is: Jim Weaver.

They're also conveniently forgetting one of Weaver's quotes that I transcribed above. Here it is again:

"The best thing for everyone is for the ACC to remain at nine teams and for the Big East to remain as it is."

Hey, don't jabber at us, folks. Go talk to Miami. Until then, once again, I'm with Jim Weaver on this one.


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