Saturday, April 24, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Vick's group provides clarification

Today's goal: Help you to make as close to an informed decision on Michael Vick's autograph signing as possible.

I had questions in Friday's column; Brenden Hill had answers. Or, in the case of some questions, the closest thing to answers he could provide.

Hill, a former Virginia Tech football player who is now a representative of The Elite Group -- the company that coordinated Vick's autograph signing today at Tech Bookstore -- called on Friday and did his best to clarify Vick's commitment level to the Humane Society of Montgomery County.

Hill said the charitable commitment at this point is $1,000, but it could wind up being more depending on the amount of revenue generated today and the company's total costs. In the end, he said, the gift should be "substantial."

"I can't give you an actual percentage," he said, "but we feel comfortable that we're not making a token donation to the humane society."

Access to Vick at the bookstore will be limited to those who purchase $30 autograph tickets. Photo opportunities with the quarterback also will be available for ticket-holders, Hill said.

"It'll be personable contact, so they'll be able to look him in the eye and say, 'We love you. We're supporting you. Good luck,' or, "Hey, Mike, I don't like what you did, but you're a human being and I believe in you," Hill said. "Whatever happens, we really can't control, but that's kind of how we envision it."

Hill, who coordinated a similar (though far less controversial) event with former Tech players Macho Harris, DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers last year, said he hopes the alumni autograph signings become an annual feature of spring game weekend. He'd like to secure a sponsor down the road so the autographs could be free for fans.

Harris returned this year and signed autographs Friday night for $20 at the door -- strictly a for-profit venture. In the case of Vick, though, Hill said they felt an obligation to make a donation to the humane society and perhaps another charity.

"We'll probably make a donation to another local animal group here in the area," he said. "It's about helping the community and helping people who have supported you. At the end of the day, we can't control what people think or what people say. But we at least want people to maybe come out, see him, look him in the eye and see if you believe him. See if you still support him after that."

For a full transcript of my conversation with Hill, visit blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/pressbox.

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Amid the zoo that today's Vick appearance promises to be, another former Tech player will be making a homecoming of sorts.

Former running back Tommy Edwards plans to set up somewhere near the bookstore during the Vick event, which runs from 10:30 a.m. to noon today. He'll sign an autograph for free if you're interested, but his main goal is to raise awareness for mental health.

Edwards, a Radford High School graduate who played at Tech from 1992-94, overcame well-chronicled battles with bipolar disorder and alcoholism that surfaced during his football career. After the campus shootings in 2007, he founded The Heart of Virginia Foundation, which promotes mental health on college and high school campuses.

This will be his first trip to the spring game since he left school. He'll be joined by Cave Spring graduate Derek O'Dell, a shooting victim of April 16, 2007, and O'Dell's father, Roger.

For more information on Edwards' foundation, visit theheartofva.org.

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News that the NCAA tournament will expand next season is more stunning for what didn't happen than what did.

The NCAA didn't completely blow it. At least not yet.

Shocker, huh? Everything we'd read, heard and seen indicated that the tournament field was going to go to 96. Columnists wrote somber obituaries for the beloved old bracket, crafted against the backdrop of one of the most entertaining tournaments in years. Coaches -- many of whom sensed an increase in job security if more teams got bids -- talked up the 96-team proposal despite a groundswell of discontent from fans and media who liked things the way they were.

Eventually, most of us resigned ourselves to the fact that this was going to happen.

It was like we all went to see our favorite old ballpark be imploded. We shed out final tears, plugged are ears and then ...

Nothing.

OK, so not exactly nothing. They're going to 68. Adding three teams. Essentially, we'll see three more play-in games than we did last season. And then, the tournament will look much like it has since 1985, when it went from 48 to 64 teams.

Even if this is only temporary -- the NCAA has the authority, and likely will use it, to expand the tournament further beginning in 2012 if it wants -- this is a welcome, sensible move.

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