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September 9, 2013

Weaver touches on array of topics as 2013-14 seasons begin

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech AD Jim Weaver was busy over the past year,
dealing with issues such as football scheduling and
extending the department’s multi-media rights
contract with IMG College.

Virginia Tech is coming off arguably its best year of competition in the ACC, as the football program won a bowl game, three teams won ACC championships and five others finished second in league tournaments. College athletics remains in a state of flux, but the Tech athletics department appears to be in good shape going forward. Tech AD Jim Weaver sat down and answered several questions covering an array of topics concerning the athletics department. Here are his answers:

Q: Looking back at last year and the success of many sports, was it one of the more rewarding years of your tenure, or did the struggles of the football and basketball programs take some of the shine off the success?

JW: I don’t think there’s any question the successes, especially with regard to ACC championships, that it was one of our best years ever. Wrestling won its first one, men’s track won three in a row [2012 outdoors, 2012 cross country and 2013 indoor], baseball finished second in the ACC Tournament, men’s and women’s swimming were second, men’s tennis went to its seventh straight NCAA tournament, women’s soccer had an outstanding year … it was just an outstanding year, and for people who say that Virginia Tech is just a football school, that concept is not correct. It’s inaccurate.

One of the things we’ve tried to do to help our Olympic sports get better is that, every time we build a new facility, we try to engage the “trickle-down effect.” As an example, we moved wrestling into an outstanding new facility on the third floor of the football building. That helped wrestling, and it helped all the other sports because we took the west auxiliary gym and put in a very nice, new Olympic sports weight room that is twice as big as what we had before. This allowed more teams to work out at the same time and get better in that aspect of their program. We’ve done that with the football locker room. The old football locker room has been converted into three new locker rooms and all the hot and cold tubs and sauna have been renovated in that space.

Things like that are helping all of our Olympic sports. We have tried diligently to make more than one operation get better with all the various facilities we’ve dealt with.

Q: You’ve been busy here lately with the football schedule, adding home-and-home series with Michigan, West Virginia and Penn State. What has prompted all the additions of these top-flight programs?

JW: We’re just filling out future schedules, and now that the Notre Dame situation has worked itself out (the Irish will play five ACC games a year), this is the time to do it. If you look at the history of our schedule, we’ve played some quality nonconference opponents. Just this past decade, we’ve played Clemson, LSU, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Nebraska, Alabama and Boise State. That’s a pretty good group of programs.

So really, we’re just duplicating what we’ve done before in the past decade. We’re playing Alabama this year and then we play Ohio State twice. We’re going to play Wisconsin, though that has been pushed back at the request of ESPN (to 2019 and 2020). We’re going to play Michigan (2020 and 2021), West Virginia (2021 and 2022) and Penn State (2022 and 2023). So I don’t think it’s much of a change from our philosophy of the past.

Q: How much has the new college football playoff format, which begins in 2014, entered into your thinking as far future scheduling?

JW: A lot. We all know that strength of schedule is going to be a much stronger criteria now than it has ever been. You want to put your program in the best possible position to earn a playoff spot, so it only makes sense to prepare for that going forward in terms of scheduling tougher teams.

Q: There are vacancies for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 schedules. Is there anything you can tell us about possible additions there?

JW: We’re working on it, and to be honest, we’ll probably have everything worked out before people receive your issue. But I don’t want to get into the details until everything is finalized. As you can imagine, we’ve been in this situation before, and things have changed. Scheduling tends to be fluid, as you well know.

Q: There has been a lot of offseason discussion about the selling of season tickets throughout college football, and a number of big-name programs are struggling to sell tickets. How are Virginia Tech’s season ticket sales, and what do you think is the contributing factor to why season ticket sales are down nationally?

JW: I think there are a number of factors. I think one factor is the television industry and how high-definition televisions keep a segment of the population at home to watch games. I think another factor is the economy. The tougher it gets economically, the more issues you’re going to see in the ticket industry. When people can stay at home and have the opportunity to have big tailgates and watch games on big-screen TV’s … it’s just coming into its own, having those kind of social get-togethers around the games.

I think another factor is scheduling. People need to schedule better, and that’s what we’re trying to do. I think that’s one factor that will help. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

Q: As an AD, how do you combat slowing ticket sales?

JW: You try to get your external affairs people working sooner on the issues. You’ve got to try to market more aggressively. You’ve got to try to get more membership in your fundraising arm, which, in our case, is the Hokie Club. You’ve got to make sure that you keep the engine that’s driving the train moving down the tracks, albeit at some times, it’s slower than others. But it’s got to keep moving down the track because it’s the revenue producer.

Q: Virginia Tech installed new state-of-the-art video scoreboards in both Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium recently. Why was this project so important?

JW: It’s a part of enhancing the fan experience. We want our fans to have the best experience they can at our home events, and having the opportunity to have new scoreboards is one of the ways we can enhance it.

I think it will also help us in a couple of other ways. I think it can help in terms of the advertising revenue that can be generated, and I also think that it helps us at least a little in recruiting. If a recruit takes an unofficial visit to campus and attends a home game and feels the Hokie Nation, then I think that helps enhance their experience. I don’t think it’s the only thing a recruit will consider, but I think it enhances that experience.

Q: The athletics department agreed to a long-term contract extension with IMG, the department’s multi-media rights holder, as a way to fund the construction of the scoreboard. How important was that and the overall relationship between IMG and Virginia Tech?

JW: They are the No. 1 operation of its kind in the country, and we were their second institution (Wake Forest was the first) going all the way back to 1995. We’ve had a very solid working relationship with them over the years, and we felt that if we could extend our relationship, then it [the video scoreboard] would assist us in helping the game-day fan experience. I think it will be viewed that way when our fans have an opportunity to see it.

Q: What is the latest on the potential building of the new field house? The university looked at a number of potential sites, but none of those sites were exactly where the athletics department was looking to build.

JW: I think we’re very close to making an announcement, so I don’t want to give out any details because this has been a project that has attracted a lot of attention. I can tell you that Lu Merritt [senior associate director of development for intercollegiate athletics] and his staff continue to work hard in raising money for the project, which we know is going to benefit so many different people. Right now, we’ve got about $11 million raised, half of which is cash and half of which is pledged. We don’t have to have the entire amount raised before we start construction, but we do have to have a plan – and we will. We’ll have a plan in place.

Q: Are there any other facilities projects on the horizon, maybe for the long term?

JW: In conjunction with the new field house project, we’ll convert the old field house into a permanent indoor track, which will then allow baseball, softball and lacrosse to work out indoors in January and February in the new field house. In the current arrangement, the track is up from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day, so those teams don’t get a chance to work indoors. This will give them a chance to do that.

Also, we have plans to build more restrooms east by the softball stadium, but we’re also going to put in there a hitting building for softball. We hope to build two rooms all on the north side of Rector, so that we can have those to use at halftime during games for both soccer teams and lacrosse. It would also be able to be used for track when we host indoor events.

So the [new] field house project is going to have a big effect on a lot of different teams for us. We’re waiting to get this moving before we draw up the final plans.

Q: You added women’s golf as a sport this past summer, giving the department 22 varsity sports. You had talked about doing this for a long time. Why was the timing right now, and do you foresee the addition of any other sports in the future?

JW: The timing was right because we’ve got our other Olympic sport head coaches salaries, operating budgets and recruiting budgets more in line with the goals we had for them, and we didn’t want to start another program until we had those various financial aspects in place.

I’m optimistic about our women’s golf program. I think Carol [Green Robertson, the Tech women’s golf coach] has good energy, and she knows the game. She was a collegiate player, and she’s been on the pro tour. She’s been a coach. I think she’ll do a terrific job. I think the search committee did an excellent job of bringing her to Tech.

As for adding other sports, I don’t foresee us doing that at this point, at least not during my tenure.

Q: The NCAA is still looking at possibly paying student-athletes a $2,000 stipend in addition to their scholarship aid. I know you’ve addressed this in the past, but have your thoughts changed on this issue?

JW: Not at all. A lot of schools can’t afford it. It’s going to make the gap larger between the schools that can do it and the schools that can’t. I hope this doesn’t pass. That will be between another $800,000 to $1 million expense, and we’d have to take money from somewhere else just to meet the costs of that stipend.

Q: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has received a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons this offseason. Recently, he allegedly received money for signing autographs. Would you be in favor of an NCAA rule change that allows for players to be paid for autographs and/or their likeness?

JW: No. That’s going to affect just a few and not the majority, and I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Q: Do you foresee a day when the five major conferences split from the NCAA and form their own organization with a different rule structure and different postseason formats?

JW: I do. I think it would be the best thing we could do. We would have like interests, and we could operate in the best interests of our organizations and not deal with a governance body that is thinking about other divisions. That’s been one of the problems with the NCAA over time, in my opinion. They’ve had to deal with so many philosophical approaches to the respective issues, and everything gets jumbled. They have too many schools to govern, and it’s almost impossible to do it.

Now, I don’t have a timetable in mind. I don’t have an idea of who or what would be the force behind it. I know television networks will play an integral role because of the money, but I don’t know how it will get off the ground. The dialogue has started, though, with respect to some comments that respective commissioners have made at various football media days.

Q: Finally, Virginia Tech president Dr. Charles Steger announced several months ago that he would be retiring. How much will his retirement and the pending hiring of a new president impact Tech athletics?

JW: First of all, Dr. Steger has been very supportive of me and our staff and athletics as a whole throughout his tenure, and I’m very appreciative of that. I’ve enjoyed working with him and his staff and certainly wish him all the best in his upcoming retirement.

I think the hiring of a new president will obviously have a great impact on athletics. We’ve had great continuity here with our staff for a long time, and we’ve had a lot of successes, but any time there is a change at the presidential level, there is inevitably going to be change in other areas within the university and that includes athletics. Our job, as a staff, is to put our athletics programs in the best possible position now and going forward. We owe that to this university, our student-athletes, our coaches and our fans, and that has always been our focus and will continue to be our focus. We want to do our part to make the transition for the new president as smooth as possible.