I had such a great response this week that I had to break things out into a second mailbag. Here’s Part II. If you missed Part I, you can get to it here. Sorry if I didn’t get to everybody’s question. And thanks to everyone who sent something in.
I recently read an article from Dennis Dodd regarding to the possibility of the 5 major conferences forming “Division 4” and possibly breaking away from the NCAA. Here is a link to that article. I wanted to your thoughts on this process and what ramifications it might have with Virginia Tech.
– Cameron S., Charlotte, N.C.
What are the chances that the five biggest conferences will form their own association and separate themselves from the present NCAA? Would that be difficult to do? Would it be successful?
– Floyd Lawson
This has been an interesting development, one that’s always kind of been hinted at but seems to be at the forefront of the power-conference commissioners’ minds. There was a concerted effort the Mike Slive, John Swofford, Jim Delaney, Larry Scott and Bob Bowlsby to get that message across at recent media days. (And as someone who has an interest in reading about the Mafia, the parallels between this group and the heads of the five families is just too perfect.)
Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel wrote an interesting piece about what things might look like if the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 decided to pursue being in something that would essentially be a fourth division in NCAA athletics. Honestly, it wouldn’t be much of a big change on the surface. It wouldn’t be a break from the NCAA. It’d be too pricey to duplicate the legislative and enforcement wings under their own control. By letting the NCAA continue to do that but working in their own division, where they can better cater to their schools’ needs, they might have found an answer to solve the differences between the haves and have nots of college athletics.
Basically, they want to be able to legislate changes to things like recruiting rules and player stipends without having to take the opinion of smaller schools into account. When you think about it, that’s not a bad idea. The Texases and Alabamas of the world, who generate in excess of $100 million in revenue each year, want to be able to make rules that better fit their needs without having schools that generate a fraction of that revenue override it. If they want to pay players an extra $2,000 stipend, why should they not be able to if some small school doesn’t want to because it can’t afford it?
There are still all sorts of issues. How would this work with Title IX? Who gets in — is it just the power conferences or do schools from leagues like the MAC and Conference USA get a seat at the table too? There’s already a clear difference in the way high-revenue schools and low-revenue schools can act. Creating a new division would just be accepting that fact, rather than trying to shoehorn everybody into playing under the same rules.
Virginia Tech might not be in Texas or Alabama’s league in terms of revenue, but it still generates enough that it would be in the division with the big boys. A $2,000 player stipend, which I’ve seen could cost schools an extra $1 million a year, probably wouldn’t be that difficult to cover for the Hokies. I don’t think any of this would affect the big boys too much. ODU maybe, because it’s just now trying to make that financial commitment to a football program. But not Tech or UVa.
In its heyday, BeamerBall was something to be feared, back in the late 90’s early 2000s. Question: One of the things that made BeamerBall excel was the decision to use starters on special teams. Will coach Beamer ever get back that? There just doesn’t seem to the emphasis on ST as there once was. I know other teams have caught on to what we do, simply because he teaches some of his tactics at coaches camps and whatever.
– Ron B., Dallas
I don’t know if you’ll ever see a day when all of Virginia Tech’s starters are on special teams again, but a fair number of them play there now. Projected starters like Kyshoen Jarrett, Demitri Knowles and J.C. Coleman are on return units, just like they’ve always been. Perhaps on the coverage teams that’s less the case, but I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes. Do you want to exhaust your stars by having them play extra snaps on special teams or bring second- and third-team guys along by giving them an extremely narrow focus each week? I think most coaches would prefer the latter, since it helps get younger guys used to the speed of the game.
I think everyone’s opinion of “Beamer Ball” would be different if the Hokies blocked more kicks. But it’s just not much of an emphasis anymore for whatever reason. Beamer has said the shield protection is a reason he’s shied away from going after punts, since it makes it easier to set up the return. I don’t know if that’s completely true. There are still teams out there blocking punts, even against the shield. I think there’s still an emphasis — believe me, Tech does a lot of special teams work at practice — but there might be less of that nothing-to-lose mentality out of the Hokies. They used to be the team had to prove themselves and win untraditionally. Special teams was a way to do that. Now that they have shown they can win more conventionally, perhaps there’s less incentive to take risks on special teams like going after punts. I’m not sure. I’m kind of fishing for answer to a question that I don’t think anybody has the answer for, otherwise they’d do something about it.
My question is about ticket sales. Bowl game sales, Alabama road game sales, and mainly season ticket renewals. Last year was a disappointing season for VT football. The economy isn’t doing great. For the price of a Hokie Club membership and two season tickets, you can get a pretty darn nice TV system. Are ticket sales still fairly strong?
– Fake Name, Fake City, USA
I had some things I was working on in the latter half of this week, so I didn’t get around to inquiring about how ticket sales are going, but this well-done article in the Collegiate Times says ticket demand is lacking from upperclassmen, to the point that tickets are available to freshmen this year. It also notes a slight decline from the number of Hokie Club members from the average of the last decade.
Now, there are probably numerous reasons for this. The team was, after all, 7-6 last year, so interest is probably be low. The lack of a Thursday night home game and a fairly lackluster home schedule certainly accounts for some of it too. When your best game is a neutral site affair and you struggle to declare what your next best game is, that’s probably not an indication that the schedule has piqued many fans’ interest. That’s probably why Tech is adding these future home games with teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia (and I’ve heard rumblings that another is in the works that I know fans will like).
TVs are too nice and tickets are starting to get too expensive for people to pay to watch Tech play a home schedule that features an FCS game, a couple of directional schools, the same old Coastal teams every year and infrequent matchups with Atlantic heavyweights like Florida State or Clemson. That’s why I’ve been such a proponent for the ACC shaking up its scheduling. When things get stagnant, fans become uninterested. And ticket sales are usually a good indicator of fan interest.
Is recruiting so early a trending fad or something that’s been around for a while? And what are your thoughts on recruiting so young?
– Pat H., Media, Pa.
Recruiting keeps starting earlier and earlier, to the point that schools are honest to gosh scouting eighth graders. It’s ridiculous. Who out there was as physically matured as an eighth grader as they’d be as a freshman in college? That matters quite a bit when you’re talking about recruiting athletes. Tech hasn’t quite gone that young (as far as I know), but the Hokies are exploring players well into the 2015 and 2016 class. That’s the business they’re in. And if you’re not scouting those players in ninth or 10th grade, you’re not keeping up with the teams that are. It’s unfortunate and inflates the egos of some of these kids who, let’s be honest, are at an impressionable age.
But I don’t quite know how you’d combat it. It’s not like coaches can contact these kids off campus. In fact, NCAA rules say they can’t do that until a player’s senior year. There’s even rules about when written scholarship offers can go out (this year’s class just had theirs mailed at the start of this month). Beyond that, I don’t know what you can do. And I don’t know if you really should. If a regular student wants to start looking at a colleges when he or she is in ninth or 10th grade, there’s nothing stopping him or her from doing so. Why should athletes be treated any different? If they want to look at a school, they should be able to. If they want to find out more about a program, they can visit it and ask some questions. I see nothing wrong with that. Would it be nice if all college coaches wait until seniors are finished with their final season before offering them scholarships? Sure. But that’s unrealistic. What we have with recruiting starting so early, I think, is just sort of the natural evolution of it all.
When’s the last time Hokies had 5 OL in recruiting class you can include TE that converted?
– Adam Bright
The last class I see that big was in 2005, when Tech signed Sergio Render, Antonio North, Robert Norris, Brandon Holland, Hivera Green and Eric Davis. But you know what’s funny? One of the best offensive linemen to come out of that year’s class was Ed Wang, who was listed as (you guessed it) a tight end.
And to be honest, I don’t really understand where this hate comes from. A lot of good linemen are converted tight ends. It says something that the best linemen the Hokies have had in the last decade, Duane Brown, took that route. Line coaches like to have guys that can move, especially out at tackle. So that’s a natural evolution for a lot of guys that maybe haven’t gotten as big as they’re going to get when they’re being recruited.
I know a lot of folks will say only Curt Newsome did this, but Jeff Grimes has too. At Auburn, he recruited Brandon Mosley, a tight end from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Grimes had every intention of playing him at tackle and did. Mosley turned into a starter on the right side for the national championship team and was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL Draft in 2012 by the New York Giants. I think you’ll find that a lot of line coaches have players who make that transition quite a bit.
Andy, no one has put anything out about how and what the new scoreboard looks like at lane stadium. Can you give us an update on the new scoreboard with some pictures, please ?
– F.M. Seate, Norfolk
I haven’t written a whole lot about it because, quite frankly, there hasn’t been a lot to write about. For the longest time, all that was there were two standards in the ground. Just recently, they began putting up the frame of the scoreboard. Here is a picture I took yesterday (click to make it bigger). It looks like there’s quite a bit of work to do. I’m not sure if they’re still on schedule. I know there’s been a ton of rain this summer, so maybe that’s contributed to it. I don’t know. I do know that the home opener’s date hasn’t changed: Sept. 7 vs. Western Carolina. So that’s the target. We’ll see if everything is operational by then.
Bud Foster timeline: how old is he and how many more years can we hope to obtain him before he leaves to make his own mark in college football?
– Coxster, Christiansburg
Bud is 54, which isn’t that old in the coaching profession. But it’s also not young. And his time as the hot, up-and-coming coordinator that could take over as a head coach seems to have passed. He’s repeatedly said he’d like to be a head coach if the situation was right. That means getting a BCS-level job. But those are going to guys who have been head coaches before. You don’t see that many coordinators jump straight to head coaching jobs these days. Even someone like Gus Malzahn, who was red hot at Auburn after it won the national championship, had to go to Arkansas State to prove his worth as a head coach before getting a shot at Auburn now. I don’t know if Bud wants to do that.
I know this: he loves coaching for Beamer. Loves it. And considering the control he’s got on this defense and the minimal meddling that Beamer does, it’s a pretty good setup. He gets paid a pretty penny (certainly to live in Southwest Virginia) and has an annuity that he’ll be able to cash in soon if he sticks around as defensive coordinator through the end of the 2014 season. And remember: he’s been here long enough that when Beamer retires, he’d be one of the top candidates to replace him. That too might be reason enough to stick around.
A Virginia Tech upset of Alabama seems very unlikely. However, if it were to happen, what do you think is the most likely way the upset unfolds (e.g., special teams advantage, epic defensive performance, turnover margin, a surprisingly effective offense, a breakout performance by an unknown player, etc.)?
– Dan L., Nashville, Tenn.
I saw an article in the offseason somewhere about what you need to do to beat Alabama, and it listed seven things that teams have done in games the Crimson Tide had lost. It was stuff like limit turnovers, capitalize on red zone opportunities, convert third downs and run the football. Well, doing those things will win you most football games.
Certainly, Alabama is among the most-disciplined teams in the country. So you can’t beat yourselves in this kind of game. That means, as mentioned before, limiting turnovers. But one things that I’ve noticed from teams that have beaten Alabama in recent years is that they usually get big games out of their quarterbacks. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel comes to mind last year. Auburn’s Cam Newton and South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia (if you can believe that) in 2010. A great game from your quarterback can mask a lot of faults.
But I also think the Hokies have to take advantage of potentially favorable matchups. The one I look at is Tech’s defensive line vs. Alabama’s revamped offensive line. The Crimson Tide is breaking in three new starters on the line. The Hokies have a deep defensive line that, when it’s on, can alter a game. They need to exploit that matchup as much as they can. The Tide has some excellent skill players, but if they don’t get time to do their thing, they become less effective.
Here’s how Scot Loeffler, who had various success against Nick Saban-coached teams at Florida and Auburn, described playing Alabama: “Probably the best advice I’ve ever heard for beating coach Saban is you’ve got to do things better than what they do. And they do these things well: they run the ball really well. They play great defense. They play great special teams. And they don’t turn it over. So if you turn the ball over against them, it’s normally not very fun.”
Easier said than done, of course.