June 27, 2003
- Since April when we learned that the prospects for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) expansion were real, we have been involved in a whirlwind of activity attempting to assess the future of the ACC and BIG EAST
athletic conferences. The situation has been in a state of flux, changing if not hourly certainly on a daily basis. This uncertainty has resulted in a great deal of speculative commentary on television, radio, and in the newspapers. Virginia Tech and I have been the subject of remarks that were both unkind and unburdened by facts.
In order to understand our decisions throughout this process, it is also useful to understand our responsibilities. Our first obligation is to protect the interests of Virginia Tech as well as the overall interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are many other constituencies affected by our actions, including our colleagues in the conferences, alumni, fans, students, and citizens. All of our actions must be carried out in a fashion that honors our contractual as well as ethical obligations to those with whom we are involved.
As in this case, the impacts of our decisions are often significant. They affect the lives of many people and the economy of our region. Each institution faces the same dilemma whether they are in the BIG EAST or ACC conference.
Virginia Tech is very fortunate in that our athletic programs generate revenue. Only about 40 of the over 100 division I-A athletic programs nationally can make this claim. No taxpayer dollars are used to support our athletic programs. While we field 21 intercollegiate teams, only football produces positive revenue. These funds are used to support the remaining 20 sports and to keep our student athletic fee low. A number of schools in Virginia charge many times our $232 student athletic fee.
It is critical that Virginia Tech be a member of a financially viable conference. What if athletic conference revenues were reduced by several million per year? Coach Beamer advised me that simply the uncertainty of the future of the BIG EAST is negatively affecting football recruiting. If we cannot attract good players, our talented coaching staff will be the target of other schools. Finding ourselves several million in the red each year, we could be forced to raise our student athletic fee or begin to eliminate several non-revenue intercollegiate sports to address the problem.
In this year and next, Virginia Tech will have budget cuts of 26 percent in state support losing $62 million this year and another $11 million next year. We have been forced to raise tuition significantly to protect the quality of our academic programs. Tuition will increase again next year. There is a limit to how much the families of our students can pay and to how much we can increase our financial aid to help with tuition increases. A 300 percent increase in the athletics fee is simply not feasible nor would it be appropriate.
Elimination of a number of our Olympic sports not only deprives our students of the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics, but also would result in significant problems with compliance with Title IX programs for our women athletes. In short, our entire intercollegiate sports program would be placed in a negative spiral from which there would be little prospect of recovery.
Given this reality, how did we manage the decision and events over the past two and a half months?
In a rapidly changing situation where decisions must be made in a matter of hours and sometimes minutes, it is only possible to make the decision based on what is known at that moment. Most often there is incomplete information and one certainly does not have the benefit of hindsight, which is of course the preserve of the Monday morning quarterback.
With that being said, let me briefly outline the chronology of events. I have been as surprised as anyone by the expansion process. When we learned that ACC expansion was reality rather than rumor we had been hearing for several years, we visited with Commissioner John Swofford to learn as much as he was appropriately able to share on the plans for the conference. Virginia Tech has made no pretense for the past 30 years that we would be a good fit for the ACC. We made clear that our first preference was to keep the BIG EAST intact, but if ACC expansion was inevitable, Virginia Tech would be a good fit. As events began to unfold we became increasingly concerned about the future of the BIG EAST conference. Early on, I proposed to other members of the BIG EAST that we sign a mutual non-departure agreement where none of us would leave the conference. That proposal was not accepted by key players in the process. It was apparent to me at that point that schools would leave the BIG EAST Conference. We became a participant in the lawsuit to protect the university and her many interests.
And yes, as reported in the papers on June 8th, I did say on a conference call with 31 participants including 10 reporters that "if we received an offer today, we would not accept it." The context of that discussion is now lost, but at the time we truly thought that would be the appropriate course of action.
As the situation unfolded, University of Virginia President Casteen, Virginia's Governor Warner, and Attorney General Kilgore placed their credibility on the line to advocate finding a solution to protect Virginia Tech's future. Needless to say, this was in every major newspaper in the country. When President Clough of Georgia Tech asked to meet with me, we both agreed that it would be advisable to seek legal advice prior to having such a meeting. Further I advised my colleagues in the BIG EAST and our outside legal counsel that such a meeting was to occur. Last Tuesday evening, I received a call from Commissioner Swofford inviting us to begin discussions that could lead to an invitation to join the ACC. The next day, I advised the BIG EAST that the conversation had occurred and met with our Board of Visitors seeking their advice on the matter. We have been straightforward and above board about our situation. Weighing all of the factors, we concluded that should an invitation be forthcoming it would be in the best interest of Virginia Tech to accept. Given the circumstances and sequence of events, this is the best choice.
This process has been difficult, but the actions of my colleagues in the BIG EAST with whom I have been involved in this issue have been exemplary. My colleagues in the ACC have also acted with integrity. At the end of the day, many will disagree with our decisions. They of course are free to do so. However, we have dealt as best we can with a very complex changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics to the best of our ability in difficult times.
Virginia Tech is now headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference, an organization of some of the nation's most prestigious universities. Today we have received the formal offer of membership, which we will accept. We know that this affiliation will be good for our students, athletes, fans, and communities for many years to come.