Thursday, July 01, 2004
Tech has work to do to prove Brill wrong
Here is a challenge for Virginia Tech as it officially begins its membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference:
Not long after the ACC voted to extend invitations to Tech, Miami and later Boston College, Bill Brill predicted that Tech would not win an ACC championship during his lifetime.
Some Hokies stayed angry with Brill during his 30-year tenure as sports editor of The Roanoke Times. No doubt, he will make some new enemies with his latest pronouncement. There are two things Tech can do about it: get angry or get even.
Brill was not a fan of ACC expansion, with or without Virginia Tech. At the heart of his opposition was his love for ACC basketball and its tradition. The ACC had the perfect, nine-team configuration for a double-round robin schedule in basketball and yearly meetings in football.
Both of those traditions are now gone.
Aside from that, Brill sees Tech as an athletic program that has grown powerful in football but basically neglected its other sports, particularly the nonrevenue or "Olympic" sports. In the final 2003-04 standings released by the National Association of College Athletic Directors, Tech finished 79th in competition for the all-sports Directors' Cup.
The nine schools competing in the ACC were scattered from seventh to 43rd, with Miami in 50th place and Boston College 68th. Does that give Tech the worst athletic program, all around, in the ACC? Pretty close.
It is possible to have a high-level athletic program and not win an ACC championship. Georgia Tech did not win an ACC championship this year. Clemson won one ACC championship, in men's golf, in 2002-03.
Virginia, an in-state rival against whom the Hokies will continue to compare themselves, won a school-record six championships this year. So, maybe it isn't that difficult. UVa's championships were in men's soccer, women's swimming, men's swimming, women's lacrosse, men's tennis and women's rowing.
You could make the case that 10 women's rowing championships - maybe 100 women's rowing championships - wouldn't equal one football title, but this is a league that values its nonrevenue championships and different schools have their different niche sports.
At Virginia, traditionally, lacrosse has been a niche sport. So few schools play men's lacrosse - Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Maryland - that the ACC does not qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Tech will give the ACC a fifth school with a women's lacrosse program.
Wake Forest, believe it or not, has won back-to-back national championships in field hockey. Over a four-year span, 1997-2001, the Deacons won three ACC baseball championships, but they don't compete in softball, lacrosse, wrestling, swimming and rowing.
What Tech teams in recent memory would have competed for ACC championships? Football and women's basketball come to mind. However, the most competitive Tech team in the past year might have been in men's soccer, in which seventh-seeded Virginia won the ACC tournament.
The Hokies were ranked ahead of Virginia, which barely finished .500, but these were two programs that haven't played each other because of the perceived disparity in their talent levels.
With recent hires such as Oliver Weiss in men's soccer and Tom Brands in wrestling, Tech athletic director Jim Weaver has given an indication that he would like to upgrade Tech's nonrevenue sports. In the rest of the ACC, however, the Hokies will find national contenders in almost every realm.
Can Tech win an ACC championship in Brill's lifetime? Well, the man is 73 and he did smoke cigars for 30 years and, having observed him for decades on the road, he could keel over at any minute. On the other hand, he's just ornery enough to outlive us all.
If we're still talking about this in five years, then Brill will have made his point.