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Opinion: Between A Rock and A Hardcore Fan Base

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This isn't a call for referendum or for status quo. I just want some more productive dialogue and sanity on what's obviously a divisive and personal issue, a generational fight, and a genuinely problematic conundrum. Whichever way we go there are going to be issues. Let's not let it get personal among each other.

Regardless of whichever side you're on, Frank wouldn't approve of Hokie-on-Hokie infighting.
Regardless of whichever side you're on, Frank wouldn't approve of Hokie-on-Hokie infighting.
Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

Before this gets intense, I want to give a little background on my experience with Virginia Tech, and my own personal story. I graduated with the Class of 2013 from Virginia Tech's College of Architecture and Urban Studies. I attended every home game I could while at Virginia Tech four of my five years- one year I was studying at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center and couldn't make it down for the games. I'm the son of a Virginia Tech grad that used to pantomime Old Hokie with me when I was a baby. And until I was 14, I absolutely hated football. Despised it. I hated thickheaded muscle-brains that made my life miserable. When my Dad threw me into freshman football because I had the size for it in high school, I was reading books on football just to catch up with everyone that knew the sport already. But I'm an intellectual by nature and a history nut- by the time I graduated high school, I spouted sports history trivia out my ears and had spent a ton of time learning whatever I could about strategy and technique- for me, working the mental game was the only way to success. And I started watching football. A lot. I remember in high school ESPN would have MAC games on late on Tuesday night, and I'd watch the Toledo Rockets way more than I care to admit- they were the team that seemed to get all the air time. And, with my dad being an alumni, I of course tuned in to Virginia Tech, starting in 2005/2006. I'll readily admit to being part of what sections of the fan base refer to as the ‘spoiled generation'. All I can remember personally are 10+ win seasons, and NFL draft success. I can also remember a lot of stunning victories (2009 Miami Typhoon) along with soul-crushing defeats (2010 JMU debacle), both of which I've attended. I've never known completely abject disaster- which is something my dad lectured me on regularly as I pointed out things I noticed that could be done better on the field. He bought me a book on Virginia Tech history for my education a few years ago, which I read. Going way back to the beginning of the program, this school desperately despised sports and the athletic scene as much as I did. It wanted nothing to do with the reputation of being a football school. It's why it went independent and stayed small scale for so long. After a taste of success under Bill Dooley- and the unfortunate subsequent scandal that sunk him and Doctor Lavery, sending us into NCAA purgatory- Virginia Tech hired a long shot. Frank Beamer. A coach of tiny Murray State that had played cornerback at Tech. It took a few years, sure, but Beamer eventually brought the program to prominence- we got to a national championship game, which at one time would have been completely unthinkable. He revolutionized how people thought of an entire phase of the game. He did it the Right Way. He did it with Loyalty. He did it with Heart and Toughness and Hard Work. The Lunch Pail Mentality.

And the fact that he was so good, for so long, bringing us out of sanctions and a history of mediocrity to failure, has now put us in an unenviable position now that he's aging and the win totals have been dropping and the numbers have been declining. We can't ignore the effect injuries have played, but we can't ignore the lack of quality depth and the unsuccessful strategies. I'm not advocating one way or another with the coaching situation because, people, I will freely admit I don't know enough. I'm not in behind the scenes. I've read things and heard things but I can't tell if any of them are true without being there, so I won't even speculate. I don't claim to be an expert. I don't claim to be a long-time fan because I can't be by age. I can tell you that I read the history, I've heard the stories, and personally, I don't think that there's a satisfactory way out. Because either way, someone's going to be mad.

Virginia Tech finds itself in a Catch-22. We've got a fan base and donors that are fighting among each other. It's a Civil War, one that has peaked this year- and will get haughty and self-righteous no matter which way the record goes as both sides attempt to justify their position. Either the Pro-Retention side will get more and more annoyed and stubborn as the record goes downward and the Pro-Retirement (via whichever way) side gets more and more vocal, or the Pro-Retention side will get more and more self-righteous if the ship corrects its list as the Pro-Retirement side gets more and more insistent on the smaller and smaller sample size.

I write this now because I DON'T want to have happen to Beamer what happened to Steve Spurrier- quitting in the middle of the season on his team when he's probably chewed out a ton of players for trying to do the same. I DON'T want to have happen to him what happened to Mack Brown, who is a dear friend of his- forced out by the administration of the school after years of decline into semi-ignominious forced retirement. Those are two famous faces that have had the end of their careers sullied by decline and less than stellar abrupt exits.

I also don't like that I can't have any many legitimate positive expectations. I don't like the fact that I see people telling me to accept mediocrity. I'd never accept it in myself if I can do anything about it; why should I accept it as the status quo? That we should take the slide as a fait accompli and just move on with our lives- because I care about the perception of the university and in today's crazy media day and age, whether we like it or not (I generally don't), the visibility of your football program matters in a lot of ways, especially to the bottom line. It's not a part of my personal self-esteem- I'm proud of my university either way, I graduated from one of the best architecture schools in the country and probably the best PUBLIC architecture school regardless. But that doesn't get as much shine for our university as winning on the football field. It's a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Virginia Tech's sellout streak ended a couple years ago. Speaking of Spurrier and USCe, thankfully, we're not in South Carolina's state, wherein their athletic department is apparently $150 million dollars in debt. But we're not making upward progress in that regard. Most recently we posted $73 million in revenue. That's 43rd in the country, behind Virginia, North Carolina, and many other programs. That of course is only a ballpark figure due to how things are reported and this doesn't exactly scale to alumni pool (a school like Texas or Ohio State simply has way more potential graduates to pay back into the university). As of this list, we're making only $4 million in profit. I'm not sure that it includes the new changes for the COLA package that student-athletes get now, but if it doesn't, that number is smaller. Virginia Tech also boasts one of the lowest department subsidies, and outside of Foster's bonus of $800,000, a fairly affordable coaching staff. So there's a LOT of numbers to crunch, but right now, that's likely to be headed on the downswing as the stadium continues to have empty seats. Granted, it's probably closer to stagnating due to the past growth, but either way, I'm glad I'm not doing the math. It's probably less encouraging.

I completely acknowledge that change guarantees nothing. I also know that a lack of change doesn't guarantee anything- but at present, that trend is not going in a pleasant direction, so we can assume more of the same until proven otherwise. I hate seeing Lane Stadium increasingly empty. I know there's the argument that we should be there for the student athletes and coaches that put so much on the line, but there's only three ways that fans can vote on their feelings that really gets the attention of the athletic department, and that's with their feet, eyes, and wallets.

So, Hokie Fans, that's where we are. It's a rock and a hard place. We're stuck. There's no mutually satisfactory way out. No matter what happens, someone's going to be mad and potentially walk away.

I'm not calling for heads, guys. I'm just lamenting that right now we're fighting among ourselves- Hokie fratricide that's a combination of rose-colored glasses and doom-and-gloom that's made the air around the fan base toxic. I merely want to try and get the fan base together and move in one direction, or at least demilitarize what has become a violent, vehement argument that no one is winning- because at this rate, we could be headed for a cliff that ends with the program sinking into anonymous failure, or kicking out a legend without his consent and leaving a bad taste in our mouths. And either route scares me.

For more information on Virginia Tech's financial situation, please read Andy Bitter's article on the subject here.

For more information on South Carolina's financial situation, please read this article here.