BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA - NOVEMBER 17: Virginia Tech Hokies fans cheer from the stands against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Lane Stadium on November 17, 2011 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
We got our chance to talk about our future ACC rivals in the "Meet Your New Neighbors" series. Now those same folks that we lightly poked fun at get to offer up their own opinions of us! Each week, I'll be posting Q&A responses from one of the 12 current ACC schools, and I'll also be submitting to some questioning on their respective sites, too. It should be fun, and if we're lucky, it might even reignite a rivalry or two (looking directly at a certain Hokies post).
This week, we get to speak extensively about Frank Beamer's performance anxiety (I see what I did there) with Gobbler Country's Chris Hatcher (chicagomaroon). We also spend time on Syracuse's fit in the ACC, Virginia Tech basketball and even Tech lacrosse.
Also, see our previous round of questioning with Streaking the Lawn.
Was Syracuse your first choice for ACC expansion?
Gobbler Country: Actually it wasn't. No offense, but I was big on adding a football-centric school(s) to the mix if the ACC expanded. The ACC gets a bad rap for football -- much of it deserved...we kinda can't get out of our own way. To borrow from the ancient (in internet years) web sensation and perhaps the original meme Charlie Bit Me, the ACC is the kid who keeps sticking his finger in Charlie's mouth even though he keeps biting), so bringing in schools with a football pedigree should've been the top priority in my mind. But, the ACC is historically a basketball conference, and aside from the football side of things where the conference catered to the 'Noles every desire for the greater part of two decades, it goes through Tobacco Road (the Carolina schools). I think the league really took offense to the notion that they had been passed by the Big East in basketball, so it makes sense that they would want to solidify the conference with two schools that are exemplary in basketball.
Really, my first choice would've been West Virginia. I think it made sense competitively, geographically and to some degree historically as several of the teams (Virginia Tech and Maryland primarily) have history with the Mountaineers. But I do concede that an addition of WVU wouldn't mesh academically and perhaps culturally with the ACC (I'm sorry West Virginia but contrary to your beliefs, Duke, UNC and UVA do not share your fascination of pelting opponents with batteries and burning furniture), and as much as I wanted it to happen I recognize that WVU would not deliver any major media market the ACC doesn't posses, which is typically a driving force in which teams are selected for conference expansion.
I also would've been happy with an addition of East Carolina, as they're a fit in every department except... you guessed it, they don't deliver any media market the ACC doesn't already have. Other names dropped like former Big East mates Temple and Rutgers both deliver huge markets (or at least they would if anyone in those markets actually watched them play), but despite their recent successes, I'm not sure it would be sustainable in a more challenging league. In regards to media markets, Syracuse does deliver one. In fact, make that a couple. So while there were a couple of options I would've preferred at the time, now I'm just glad the conference expanded with schools that weren't imaginary and wasn't blown to smithereens Death Star-style like most projected.
Do you believe that SU and Virginia Tech will quickly reestablish the rivalry we enjoyed in the Big East, or will it take some time?
GC: In football I think it might take some time reestablish that rivalry simply because of how the ACC's scheduling is set up. If my calculations are correct, we will not be playing Syracuse but once every three years, with our first meeting not guaranteed to happen until 2015. It's kind of difficult to have a real intense rivalry with a team you see that seldom. You can't really get into the whole "I hate X player because of what he did against us the last time we played" because too seldom would a player be around long enough to fit that bill. You can't really get into the "We beat you the last X times we played" if it's not yearly because people would forget. You can't really get into a "This game wins or loses us the division" mentality because unless it's the last game on the schedule and/or a lot of incredibly unlikely tie-breakers come into play, that wouldn't be the case. So unfortunately, no, I don't see the rivalry really ever reaching what it was at the end of the Hokies tenure in the Big East. Not playing every year makes a rivalry game lose its allure. Heck, there are a ton of young Hokie fans and even Virginia Tech students who don't even hate West Virginia because they weren't watching Tech football the last time the two played (sobs uncontrollably...OH THE HUMANITY!). For the record though, I never really viewed the Tech-Syracuse game as a true rivalry. I think the word is thrown around pretty loosely these days, so when a team talks about how it has five or six rivals I pretty much stop listening.
Is there any shot that Tech elevates its lacrosse program to D-I in the next few years?
I'm actually not too familiar with Tech's men's lacrosse club team, but minoring in sports management in college, I do have an answer for you. Per Title IX, the number of sports offered at a school for male athletes may be no more than the number of sports offered to female athletes. Therefore, the Hokies would have to drop a men's sport or add a women's sport to pick up men's lacrosse from club status, to one of their official sports. Also complicating this is there are only six public high schools that play VHSL lacrosse within 150 miles of Blacksburg. So they would need to go into Northern Virginia to recruit against the likes of four of the final eight in this year's NCAA Lacrosse Tournament. Teams like UVA, Maryland, Loyola (Md.) and Johns Hopkins are just closer to the area than the Hokies. I think you would be hard-pressed to be able to sell a recruit to come to Southwest Virginia and play for an upstart team than to stay in the general area and play for a national contender. So unfortunately, I don't see it happening in the next few years.
Frank Beamer's a great coach, but obviously his performance in big games has left something to be desired. Are Hokies fans as concerned about this as the media appears to be?
GC: Yeah, that's the rap on Beamer and has been for a number of years now. It's something that has lent to a lot of copy/sound bites for national reporters, and a running series on our site: "Games We Wish We Had Back." Even though it drives Hokie fans insane I think we've come to terms with it a little (at least the sensible ones of us). Only a small contingent of Virginia Tech fans ever come with the "fire Beamer" stuff, and usually they aren't the ones who have been watching for 10+ years (and probably I'm gifting those people several years) if you catch my drift. I am ashamed to say that I have brought it out in a fit of rage several times... I believe the last time was after we lost to JMU. But I can honestly say, I really think I've only used it twice since 2003, and I think on both occasions there was the caveat that Tech should "fire Beamer only if he continued to refuse to fire Stinespring" (our terribly inept OC, who still holds the position, but no longer calls the plays...You heard me correctly). Even when I said it though, I don't think I honestly believed it was for the best interests of the program. I was just mad about an inexplicable loss and was looking for a scapegoat.
In all honesty though, Beamer is one of those rare coaches who deserves to decide when he wants to retire as long as he's putting a competitive team on the field and barring any kind of blow up the magnitude of the Penn State scandal (knocking on wood SO hard right now). Something fans typically fail to question when they begin clamoring for the firing of their coach is "is there someone who can do this job better?" (something I will revisit below), and if yes, the very important follow-up question is "can we get him?" For Virginia Tech football right now, I would say those answers are no and no.
While it is alarming that the Hokies continually fail against Top-5 teams, especially since we are usually in those games, there are some things people fail to consider when looking at that 1-27 (1-19 under Beamer) against Top-5 statistic. I would like to quote Chris Colston (an award-winning former USA Today sportswriter and the author of five Virginia Tech books and the HokieFootball Annual), because I haven't seen anyone put it better and don't believe I could put it more eloquently myself. In his 2011 edition of the HFA, Colston writes,
"Those who follow Tech's program, though, realize that six of those 19 losses came before 1993, when the Hokies passed the line of demarcation into relevance. Since then Tech has done reasonably well--and better than has been reported. Against teams ranked in the Top 5 by the end of [the] season--a true mark of a team's strength--the Hokies are 2-9 since '93. While that doesn't sound great, it actually ranks No. 10 nationally, because hardly anybody beats those teams... Of those nine losses, five came to teams that won the national title or went undefeated. The combined record of those 11 opponents: 128-13."
When looking at it from that perspective, should the Hokies really have beaten many of those teams? I understand that Colston worked the numbers to get the ones he wanted for his argument, but that doesn't mean that what he's saying didn't happen. My point is this (and similar to Colston's): Tech is not typically a Top-5 team. I am okay with that. I willingly accept that we are a notch below the USC/Texas/Oklahoma/Ohio State/Alabama/LSU/Floridas of the world, and maybe we always will be. But realistically, should the Hokies be the team (and maybe the only team in a given season because Top-5 teams are Top-5 teams for a reason: they don't lose) to beat one of those squads? Probably not.
The one last thing I will say about the 'big game' issue for the Hokies is this (once again stealing from Colston): "Tech's Beamerbowl-era record against teams ranked No. 6-15 is a whopping 13-4, second to only Ohio State." I'll add that, when including the 2011 season, the Hokies would be 13-5 in that time span (with a very debatable fifth loss to Michigan at that...SMH).
Will Virginia Tech ever be able to achieve consistent success in basketball, or is that a longshot? Assuming Syracuse and Pitt's additions don't help on that front either.
GC: Remember when I said I'd be coming back to the "Something fans typically fail to question when they begin clamoring for the firing of their coach is 'is there someone who can do this job better?'" Well, now is that time. And the answer is still no. So to answer your question, we just booted that guy out the door and hired a guy with zero head coaching experience at any level (at least according to his bio). Granted five NIT's and one NCAA Tournament berth in a nine-year period is not ideal, and as you said yourself about the program here "Commence chuckling." Not to worry, from the perspective of a fan base that is contending for national titles year in and year out, it does seem laughable. But, something you might not know is that in the last six seasons the Hokies have beaten the #1 team three times (three different teams), and are the only team to do that in the country, raked in the #11 recruiting class nationally in 2011 and as you mentioned prior to last year had been left out on the NCAA Tournament bubble for four consecutive years. Those four years include a 23-win (regular season) 2009-10 team, a 2010-11 team with 11 ACC victories, and a 21-win 2007-08 team that lost to North Carolina in the ACC Semifinals on last-second a Tyler Hansbrough fadeaway (you know, the one where he did the chicken dance).
Granted, I understand that I am biased about these omissions, but I wasn't the only one who took issue. Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas both blasted the committee on ESPN's tournament selection reaction show (whatever it's called, I stopped watching the tournament selections because I knew it would be like being punched in the gut by Mike Tyson in his prime) for the Hokies omission in 09-10 and 10-11. At least two of those four teams should've been dancing. Over that period, the Hokies were the first ACC team with 11 league wins to ever be excluded from the NCAA tourney, the first with 10 league wins to ever be excluded from the NCAA tourney, and... the second ACC team with nine league wins to ever be excluded from the tournament. They also were left on the bubble the year the NCAA picked the #1, 2, 3, ... 5, 6, and 7 teams in the ACC but left out the team that tied for third (guess who?). The difference between the Hokies and the #7 team was 3 games and the Hokies were undefeated against teams 5, 6 and 7. They've also fielded four of the five teams -- since the ACC expanded -- to be left out of the tournament after finishing fourth in the conference or higher (27/32 were admitted). And lastly, this is probably the most telling data right here on the Hokies NCAA mishaps.
But that's enough of that. Down from my soap box. The point there was I believe they'd been consistently competing over the last five or so years. In fact, our last year in the Big East (and Greenberg's first year as coach and one year removed from Ricky "the program killer" Stokes... who was the worst coach in the history of the school) we had a winning record and won 8 conference games. And if you will remember last year (in our worst year under Coach Greenberg) at MSG (essentially a home game for the 'Cuse) the Hokies led for the first 28 minutes of the game despite only playing two upperclassmen, before ultimately losing by 11. I'm not saying Syracuse didn't play a bad game for the first 28 minutes. I'm not saying Tech didn't play a really good game for them. I'm just saying we had the athletes to hang with them.
Now? The Hokies have eight scholarship players including their lone recruit. Two players transferred after the decision to fire Greenberg, including the top-rated player in school history. Our lone four-star commitment re-opened his recruiting and chose Louisville over us and Kentucky. Did I mention we only have eight scholarship players? Yeah, we're in dire straights as a basketball team. So really, while the additions of Pitt and Syracuse don't help, it's hard to quantify the difference between being last in 12th place and last in 14th place. Basically it comes down to this: if you're going to fire a coach, don't wait until April 30th. As a result, it's more than a longshot. Mark my words, Virginia Tech will not seriously compete in the ACC (you never know with conference expansion...gotta throw that in there) in basketball again this decade.
Any tips for getting by in the ACC (dos, don't for fans)?
GC: Let's see... I guess I'll be an equal opportunity offender as much as I can. Don't be outnumbered at a BC home basketball game. It's just embarrassing. Do listen to Clemson fans during the chorus (I guess?) of the "Tiger Rag" and see if you think they don't sound like children on amusement park rides (you'll be listening for a lot of WOO HOOs). When you play Duke in basketball, do expect them to get pretty much every call. They're Duke. If you're ever beating Florida State, PLEASE DO join in for the Tomahawk chop and encourage everyone around you to do it too. I think it's the most humiliating thing for them to be taunted with their own, terribly redundant, battle cry. Don't tell Georgia Tech that their offense is gimmicky. Don't make fun of Maryland's jerseys, they take it personally. Just lie to them and tell them they look good. Don't ever try to argue about anything with a Miami fan... ever. They will render your argument irrelevant by turning their hand into a U shape and saying "the U" (at least they believe this is the effect). For UNC, see also, Duke. Definitely DO make a joke to a UVA fan (or multiple fans) on how long it's been since they've held the Commonwealth Cup (hint: Matt Schaub was their quarterback). Either that or play a prank on them by telling them Zima is back and where they can find it (preferably somewhere far). Definitely DO come tailgate at Virginia Tech if you have the chance. We would love to have you. I think we're pretty good hosts to non-UVA, WVU, or FSU fans... at least until you get into the stadium. As for NC State and Wake, there's just really not that much to make fun of. They're probably the two most genuinely nice fan bases I've dealt with in the ACC. Kudos to them. There you go, do pass along kudos and niceties any time you cross their paths. As for Pitt, you probably have the better book on them. I'd be resigned to making half-cocked Dave Wannstedt or Joe Flacco jokes.
Thoughts on Syracuse overall (as an institution and an athletic program)?
GC: Syracuse is a top-notch institution who fits in with the ACC's profile very well. I should know. In under two years of being out of college, I can name over a handful of jobs that I didn't get because a Syracuse grad got the job. In fact, this has happened so much that I am considering post-grad at Syracuse. As an athletic program, I like the trend I've seen the last couple of years in football, even with the drop off a year ago. In basketball I know that the conference is getting another national title contender. That's all I've got. Welcome to the ACC!