News With Commentary by TSL Staff
Monday, March 29, 2004Open Letter to the Board of Visitors
by the Hokie Hardwood Club, 3/29/04
Editor's Note: The Hokie Hardwood Club, a fund-raising organization for women's basketball at Virginia Tech, sent a letter over the weekend to Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors that was critical of VT Athletic Director Jim Weaver's handling of former Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson. The Hardwood Club forwarded the letter to us, and we reprint it here in its entirety. Please note, as always, that our printing of the letter does not endorse its content or message. -- Will Stewart, editor, TechSideline.com.
Virginia Tech Board of Visitors
Dear Board Members:
Members of the Executive Committee of the Hokie Hardwood Club would like to express our sincere disappointment in how the situation with Coach Henrickson was handled. We firmly believe that more could have been done to support the womenís basketball program and to keep the coaching staff at VT. The Hokie Hardwood Club has donated over $280,000 to the womenís basketball program over the past five years and believe Bonnie prompted much of that commitment to our program. She was a terrific ambassador for Virginia Tech both within the Commonwealth and around the country. Some people have begun to question Bonnieís coaching style, but we feel her record stands for itself.
Many people would like to make Bonnieís departure about money. We do not believe that to be the case because in her seven years at Tech, she has never asked for a raise for herself. She and her staff enjoyed life in Blacksburg and enjoyed the support they received from the Hokie faithful and had spent most of their professional careers here. Her main goal has always been to create a national championship caliber program here at Virginia Tech. However, that can be very difficult to do when the athletic director does not support the program to that level of success. Support for our program is more than just about the money given to the program, but its stature within the Athletic Department. There are numerous examples where Jim Weaver has not stepped up to support the womenís program. For one, Bonnie was eliminated from the Monday night "Hokie Hotline" radio show. Although she was able to find a local broadcast to participate on, she lost the statewide coverage of the ISP radio broadcast. It is difficult to build an outstanding program when you are not given equal media exposure. There is also the issue of attendance counting. At almost all home games, the women had more in attendance than actually had to buy a ticket. However, the Athletic Director chose to only report paid attendance despite protests that this hurt us in recruiting.
The Athletic Director has traveled to very few of the VT womenís basketball team post-season appearances. His presence, while not costing VT very much, would have spoken volumes to the coaching staff, the team, supporters and opponents. I would have said "Your hard work and dedication to Virginia Tech athletics are important to us." Lew Perkins knew so much about Bonnie because he attended the Big East tournaments in support of the UConn women and had seen her coaching abilities. The womenís program was also not given much effort in terms of marketing. Of course, ads appeared in the newspaper regarding games, but it appears little creative effort was put into boosting fan attendance. The Hokie Hardwood Club stated their willingness to participate in any marketing opportunities and even offered suggestions, but these offers never received any response from the VT staff responsible for this area. In addition, does it seem appropriate that the head coach of our program should be devising ways to increase attendance at the Second Round NCAA game when her team is about to play a number one seed? Of course not, but this is exactly what was happening because no one else had stepped up to make things happen. And lastly, what is the message that is sent to the womenís program when the menís staff received monetary recognition for simply making the Big East tournament this year, a tournament the women had never missed, and the womenís staff receives nothing in recognition of getting into the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in seven years? We think the message was "the contribution from the womenís program is not that important to Virginia Tech athletics." And this is a program that had carried Virginia Techís basketball reputation for several years while the menís team was struggling. These are the areas that Bonnie and her staff must have seen as lacking and they just wanted an equal chance to perform within an Athletic Department that did all it could to support their success.
We believe that Jim Weaver never made any credible effort to prevent Bonnie and her staff from leaving Virginia Tech. He seemed very well aware of how much money the school would receive from the buyout of her contract, but he did not know, nor do we believe he ever asked, the deal that Kansas had offered her. Is it possible that with a "bottom line" focus, Mr. Weaver saw this as an opportunity to add $523,000 to the program and it would only cost us our coach? We are concerned that he "does not get it". It is not always the monetary things that make a great athletic program. It is the tangible and intangible things that an AD brings to the table that make a great athletic program. With the administrationís track record on overall support for the program, it is easy to see why Bonnie would put more faith in Lew Perkins than Jim Weaver as the place to be to build a national championship basketball program. There are many disillusioned Hokie alumni, fans & supporters over the loss of Bonnie Henrickson, especially when we believe it did not have to happen. A coach of Bonnieís caliber should be leaving for a better program than ours and media reports say this is a lateral move for her at best. Which begs the question, why did she leave? It seems unlikely it is for money when she has never focused on her personal income before.
We have come to realize that it will be virtually impossible to prevent Bonnie from leaving or undo the damage that this loss has created, and it is hard to measure the negative reaction other good coaches may have to coming here. We have already begun to receive questions about whether members should continue to contribute to Virginia Tech when this is allowed to happen. However, we hope that you will do all you can to see that money is not always the bottom line in our Athletic Department. Sometimes having people of great talent and integrity helping young women become great adults is more important than the "bottom line". If Jim Weaver fails to bring all the necessary components together to support the next Virginia Tech Womenís Basketball coach, then we will be in this same situation in a few years. As it is, we have lost an individual who was always a positive reflection on this University and one can only hope we learn from the mistakes made during this time. As we watch the Kansas womenís program rise to national stature, many of us will always feel it should have been us.
Elaine Carver, President