August 31, 2011

By dslater82

Speaking from his office at Virginia Tech’s Burruss Hall, Larry Hincker sounded frustrated. Hincker is the main spokesman for the university and its president, Charles Steger. And he was a tad irked about having to respond today to another report linking Tech and the Southeastern Conference.

“If there’s a frustration that you’re seeing in my voice, the frustration is that people are making things up,” he said.

OK, let’s first get you up to speed on the latest with conference expansion, which you can add to the ever-growing list of unseemly things in college football. Texas A&M told the Big 12 today that it will leave the conference next June. (The same Big 12 which, after last year’s expansion nonsense, currently has 10 teams.)

This move had been talked about for weeks, as all indications and reports point toward Texas A&M joining the SEC, college football’s most powerful conference, which currently has 12 teams. But in order to maintain a symmetrical conference with two equally sized divisions, the SEC would have to add another team in addition to Texas A&M.

That’s where this report from Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com comes in. Brown has done a bang-up job on reporting about conference expansion over the past year or so. From that perspective, he seems like a very reputable and plugged-in reporter on these matters. And here is what he wrote in that report …

It appears the SEC may want to explore interest from a potential 14th team before moving forward with Texas A&M, sources said.

According to multiple sources, Virginia Tech could be emerging as the leading candidate to become the 14th team in the SEC as a member of the SEC East. If the SEC presidents want to slow the process until a 14th team is identified, any announcement involving Texas A&M could be delayed beyond next week, one source close to the SEC said.

So there you have it. You can dissect what “leading candidate” to become the 14th team means. Is it just that the SEC covets Tech? Or is in the interest mutual?

It most certainly is not, Hincker said.

“Total poppycock,” he said. “What’s ridiculous is that we’ve got bloggers and unnamed sources postulating and telling what Virginia Tech’s future is going to be. And our athletic director and our president are on record as saying we have absolutely no interest in this whatsoever. And yet the speculation still continues. And it’s a little frustrating, to be honest with you.”

Before we get any deeper into this, it’s important to note that conference expansion (or a big reason why schools might not want to move to a different conference) all gets back to money. That’s a stunner when it comes to the “amateur” sport of college football, isn’t it?

Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said Monday night on the school’s “Tech Talk Live” radio show that Tech fits geographically and academically with the ACC, that the school “coveted” membership in the conference “for a long, long time,” and that “I don’t see any reason to leave, and I don’t think the president sees any reason to leave.”

As colleague Nathan Warters noted in his item Tuesday about Weaver’s comments, Weaver brought up the ACC’s exit fee of approximately $13 million, and that, depending on the arrangement, a new member to a conference would not initially get the same share of revenues (television contract money, etc.) as that league’s current teams.

“I can tell you that people [conferences] are thinking about elevating their exit fees very quickly, very soon,” Weaver said.

Basically, conferences would do this to try to prevent teams from leaving.

But if other teams decide to leave the ACC, Weaver said, “We’d probably have to revisit it in a more thorough fashion in terms of what’s happening at the moment in time. But I don’t think [SEC commissioner Mike Slive] saying they’re going to take three ACC teams means they’re going to get three ACC teams.”

Weaver said that from everything he knows, all 12 ACC schools are “very solid” in their “commitment to the conference.”

A lot went into Tech joining the ACC in 2004 – most prominently, then-Gov. Mark Warner encouraging the University of Virginia to support Tech’s inclusion in the league. It’s no wonder, then, that Hincker insisted today that the ACC is the best fit for Tech, as he has done several times in the past few weeks.

“There’s no question about it,” he said. “This institution really had spent years, really should have been in the ACC all along. The fact of the matter is, as Jim said, I’ve got a bus ride to seven teams [for road games]. Why would I want to be in any other league?

“It’s just really total speculation that people are making up. And then you know what happens. As soon as you get all these rumors, people like me have to keep going out there and saying, ‘No, no, no.’ It really truly is total fabrication. Nobody at my institution has had one word on this with anybody, except for me trying to respond to [reporters asking about it]. It’s not serious. It’s just not on our radar screen, and it’s speculation by people who really don’t have any idea what the reality is.”

But what about Weaver saying Monday that Tech would have to “revisit” this matter if other teams decided to leave the ACC?

“How’s that going to happen?” Hincker said. “The departure penalty is already pretty big. Nobody has expressed any interest. Who would want to be in a 16-team league? Now you start getting into the sports speculation and all that kind of thing.

“But from a standpoint of where this institution belongs, these are our sister schools – Clemson, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State – these are schools that we deal with on a regular basis. And I happened to be the person that helped write one of the original proposals to the ACC back almost 10 years ago, eight years ago.

“You look at the profile, you look at the partnerships we have. We share a biomedical engineering program with Wake Forest. We share a profile almost identical to Clemson and N.C. State. We’re extremely close to the University of Virginia. Oddly, our alums love to hate each other, but the schools really, really do a lot of work together. And so it makes no sense. It’s just really truly speculation.”

After saying all of this, Hincker passed along Tech’s formal statement on potential SEC expansion from a couple weeks ago (basically a three-sentence version of everything he had just said) …

“Virginia Tech is exceedingly pleased with our membership in the ACC. It is the perfect conference for us. The university administration has no interest any discussion concerning affiliation with any conference other than the ACC.”

So that’s the latest on Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 (probably for the SEC) and Tech officials saying the school has no interest in joining that league.

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