Over the weekend I did an Q & A with SB Nation's Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician about Virginia Tech and my feelings about Syracuse's move to the conference. If you missed it, it's an interesting read. You may not feel the same way I do about the addition of Syracuse to our conference (and if you don't, feel free to become a member of their blog and comment away, I'm sure they'd appreciate the discussion), but I think I feel very similar to a lot of Hokies on the issue.
Today, John Cassillo was kind enough to answer my questions about Syracuse, their view of the Hokies, the benefits of the ACC and the sentimentalities they are leaving behind in a conference they helped to found. So strap yourself in for our second part of the Q & A session, found after the jump.
GC: The most obvious question has to be asked: Granted the Big East became a better basketball conference with the departures of Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, but it certainly was the catalyst in the process of killing off Big East football for good. How big of a punch to the gut was it the day you found out it was Virginia Tech and not Syracuse making the move to the ACC?
TNIAAM: Admittedly, I was still in high school back then, so I can't say that my subdued reaction of "oh good, I was hoping that wouldn't happen" is standard across the Syracuse fan base. That said, many SU fans' initial reactions to our current move was "goddamn it," followed by a week of reconciling with the decision, followed by a welcome embrace. For Syracuse, as a founding member of the Big East, this move carries some permanent changes for our athletic program and fan base -- something a lot of us are still wrapping our heads around. Others feel differently and have been pretty bitter about what happened. Overall though, we're in the same conference again, so I'm willing to say it's water under the bridge.
GC: So if you had a choice between a completely sustainable Big East and the ACC, which would you prefer? Why?
TNIAAM: Well define "completely sustainable Big East," first of all. I'd argue that the only way that's possible is by combining the 90s alignment of the league with pre-scandal Penn State, Maryland and Louisville/UConn. If that's what we're dealing with, I think that league does just fine, and I'd want to be a part of it. The other part of the sustainability piece is preventing basketball from becoming too unwieldy. There was no need to invite more non-football schools. If we went with the 12-team setup above, and kept the four basketball schools, that would've given us a nice 18-team league. Not as good as the one assembled from 2005-2011, but a competitive league that still allowed us to play all our traditional rivals just the same. That's idealism, though.
At this point, the ACC is the better option, and I believe Syracuse and its fans are happy to be there as long as it remains as it is. The big downers in the move are losing our home-and-homes with UConn and Georgetown. Even if they were to join some idealized ACC, it would never be the same as it was, though. So might as well prepare ourselves for the once-a-year, non-conference matchup with one or both of those schools. The ACC gives us more exposure (or at least, it does right now), a better class of institutions to associate ourselves with academically, and lets us rejoin longtime rival Boston College in football. So far, it seems like a positive development.
GC: What are you hoping that the move to the ACC will do for Syracuse?
TNIAAM: I touch on some of this above, but personally, I was hoping for additional exposure and TV revenue to improve our facilities and perception in athletics (specifically football), as well as an association with higher-caliber academic institutions overall. No offense to our current Big East brethren (well, some offense), but I'm jumping at the opportunity to potentially collaborate more with UVa, UNC, BC and Duke (as well as the other league institutions) academically.
Most importantly, the move to the ACC might be the boost that the football program has needed for the past decade. We've hit a bit of a dry spell (you may have heard), and I think a lot of it has to do with a combination of geography, conference affiliation, Greg Robinson and poor facilities. You can't change geography, but the rest can be adjusted, and I believe the ACC really assists us in doing that.
GC: What is the overall perception of Virginia Tech in the Syracuse community? Has it changed since we weaseled our way into the ACC?
TNIAAM: That depends on the scope of the Syracuse fan you're talking about. If they're just focused on Syracuse and Big East, no the Hokies may not register, though there are still fond memories from the 90s. But for those of us with a more national focus, Tech is still worth hating. The team just wins too consistently, loses in the postseason too consistently and sorry, but we're not ones to accept gloating from fan bases that have never won a title (also looking at you, BC and WVU). That said, it appears you guys have done things the right way and built a program that is always in the conference championship conversation (more than we can say right now). I'm happy to bring Syracuse-Tech back to some level of hatred, though I'm unsure what portion of the SU fan base is also on board with that.
GC: What is it that Doug Marrone has done differently than Greg Robinson (I'm guessing a lot)?
TNIAAM: He understands the tradition of Syracuse football, most importantly. Marrone played at Syracuse and being head coach there was his dream job. He gets SU, which is more than you could say for Greg Robinson. After G-Rob shut down our downstate recruiting efforts (exacerbated by the rise of Rutgers and UConn) and took a more "national" tact toward attracting talent, we had to rebuild all of those relationships. Now, take a look at Syracuse's recruiting efforts in New York City and on Long Island. We're back to winning those areas going away, and that's one of the biggest keys to this program's success going forward. Marrone has been instrumental in bringing those pipelines back into the fold, and does not want to see this program hit another "dark ages."
That said, we're still 17-20 in three seasons, with just one postseason berth (a win, mind you). We've got a tough schedule ahead this year, and I'm unsure if we can really do better than 6-6. This is Marrone's time to show us that he's not here to just bring us back to mediocrity, but he's committed to returning us to success (eight wins or more). I think he has it in him, something the fan base could never say of Robinson.
GC: Where do you see the Orange for the first couple of years in football in the ACC?
TNIAAM: I think how we do this year gives a good barometer. If we can go 6-6 against a difficult schedule in 2012, then I believe we're poised to hover near .500 for the first year or two in the ACC. After that, all depends on how we progress with our new football facilities and recruiting. Facing Clemson and FSU every year isn't going to be easy, and I won't even begin to think we can come out of either of those stadiums alive. But once we get our bearings and start to know our opponents a little better, I see SU being capable of eight wins -- maybe a lucky chance at nine or ten every so often. That was the norm just a decade ago. It can happen again.
GC: How much longer do you see Jim Boeheim coaching?
TNIAAM: Depends, really. If we won it all in the next two seasons (knock on wood), I could see him hanging it up. But nonetheless, I doubt he's got more than five overall. Our recent run of success and his time with the Olympic team appear to have revitalized him a bit, and I think that bodes well for his career longevity.
GC: How did you feel about the alignment of the ACC Divisions?
TNIAAM: I understand the issues that the ACC deals with when it comes to divisions. Too many important rivalries, an inability to switch to a geographic model and a necessity for competitive balance that also throws a wrench in the gears. But that said, can't argue with the way it turned out for us. We get big games versus FSU and Clemson every year (despite their likely, poor results for us), plus we get matched up with long-time rival Boston College and should-be-rival Maryland. Wake and NC State can be growing rivalries for us, and especially with Wake, there's enough commonalities to make it worthwhile.
GC: Does Syracuse really pump heat into the Carrier Dome for football games, or is it the effect of having that many people in an enclosed space? I want the REAL answer!
TNIAAM: No heat that I know of, but believe me, I don't enjoy being covered in sweat for those contests either. Pretty sure it's the effect of having so many people in such an enclosed space -- especially until early October, when it's still around 70 degrees or so at game time (at least).
GC: What are some traditions Syracuse observes that the Hokie fans that read this blog may not know about?
TNIAAM: I'll assume you guys aren't overly familiar with any SU football traditions, and just give a quick rundown of some of my favorites:
-Varsity, our most famous local eatery, hangs up felt pennants of each football opponent before the season starts. After each win, the losing opponent is turned upside down -- something that Marrone and the players have actually done of late, which creates a fun event for those who happen to be eating lunch there that day.
-The team sings the alma mater after every home game, regardless of result. It's a recent development (again, Marrone), and I think it's really provided a greater sense of community and pride for the team and fans.
- We jingle keys during a defensive third down as a distraction (most effective when the Dome's packed).
-When a game's result is pretty much locked-up in our favor, we sing the "Hey Song" -- not the classiest move, but always fun when it's broken out, nonetheless.
Thanks again for John Cassillo participating in this Q & A with us. We look forward to renewing whatever rivalry we had with Syracuse in football and getting crushed like the scissors in a game of rock paper scissors in basketball. Actually, we don't look forward to that last part at all. At any rate, welcome to the conference.
For more Hokie football and basketball coverage, stay tuned to Gobbler Country.