The Year of Our Discontent: Conclusion

Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, on August 22, 2005
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Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in our series about Virginia Tech being put on probation for football and basketball in the mid-late 1980s.


In July of 1987, the results of the four-month investigation into Virginia Tech’s basketball program had been revealed to the Virginia Tech administration, the media, and the public. A dozen NCAA violations were detailed in the report put together by Chicago attorneys Mike Glazier and Mike Slive, but despite all the hoopla, only two of the violations could be considered serious: a player (Russell Pierre) was given credit for course work not completed in an attempt to keep him eligible, and the wife of a player (Pierre’s wife Sadhia) had been given a personal loan in order to buy a car.

Glazier and Slive’s report also outlined poor academic performance by the basketball team, including low graduation rates, progress not being made towards a degree by many players, and low grade point averages.

Head coach Charlie Moir was cleared of any direct wrongdoing, but the general state of the program under his care was a poor reflection on Moir, who had won 213 games in 11 seasons. The investigation, which had been launched in March and had laid waste to Moir’s April recruiting class, cost him three of his four 1987 recruits. The program had reached a low point in talent, perception, and recruiting.

It was generally believed that the investigation and its findings were the end of Charlie Moir, despite the fact that he hadn’t been found personally responsible for any of the violations. The basketball program was almost certainly going to be put on NCAA probation once Tech reported its full findings to the NCAA.

Moir was finishing up year three of a five-year contract, and there was a clause in it that allowed three more years to be added on July 1st, 1987. Sensing that probation was coming, and having lost the heart of his most recent recruiting class, the 56-year-old Moir asked for a six-year contract, feeling that he needed the time to rebuild the program and get over the effects of whatever probation was coming.

The Virginia Tech administration didn’t feel comfortable giving Moir a contract that long, particularly given the turmoil around the program and the perception that Moir wasn’t running a tight ship. All that was left was to wait and see what settlement Virginia Tech would reach with Moir and his attorney, the ever-present S.D. Roberts Moore, who had represented Bill Dooley and Dutch Baughman.

More Turmoil Around Pierre

While the furor over Glazier and Slive’s report died down, more nastiness continued around the long-since-departed Russell Pierre. In late June of 1987, a special Montgomery County grand jury was formed to investigate allegations that Pierre had attempted extortion on a member of the Virginia Tech basketball staff.

As the summer months wore on, the special grand jury questioned school vice president William Van Dresser, Charlie Moir, former athletic director Dutch Baughman and other Tech officials, and on August 18th the grand jury released a report accusing Pierre of trying to extort a “luxury automobile plus financial assistance for moving expenses to New York.”

The week of January 5th-10th, 1987, Pierre, who had been declared academically ineligible the week before, met with Moir and said that if his demands weren’t met, he would expose academic deficiencies in the program. There was no one better qualified to do that than Pierre, who had been given credit by Tech professor Margaret Driscoll for an independent study course, before Pierre had submitted the required course work … a paper on “A History of the Metro Conference.” The “course” had been set up as a one-credit course designed to keep Pierre academically eligible.

At the center of the special grand jury’s investigation was a tape recording of the conversation between Pierre and Moir, in which Pierre had tried to extort Moir. Despite having the tape as evidence, the nine-member special grand jury was split on whether or not Pierre had actually attempted extortion. Overall, eight of the nine members felt Pierre had attempted extortion, but of those eight, only five felt that Pierre should be indicted and prosecuted. The special grand jury’s report wasn’t an indictment or a formal charge in itself, and the incident never went to a formal grand jury. But still, the idea of a former player threatening a coach in that fashion was unseemly, to say the least, and just more evidence in the court of public opinion that things were out of control in Blacksburg.

Ultimately, Pierre did get his luxury car, or more precisely, his wife Sadhia did. Sadhia received a $7,200 personal loan from former associate athletic director Bill “Moose” Matthews, towards the purchase of a 1984 Audi 500. Sadhia got the car from Highland Volkswagen, which was partly owned by Matthews. One source TSL spoke to said that Matthews also gave Pierre $1,000 to help pay for his move to New York, an allegation that never made it to light during the investigation into the basketball program.

The BOV Takes Steps in the Right Direction

In July of 1987, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors took a step in the right direction when they voted to dissolve the Virginia Tech Athletic Association, an independent private corporation that for 39 years had been managing and controlling athletics at Virginia Tech. It sounds odd in this day and age to think of a private corporation running athletics at a university, but that’s how it was done at Virginia Tech from 1948 onward.

Under the plan, the VTAA’s board would be converted to an advisory committee, and athletics would become an auxiliary enterprise of the university. The plan also called for a system of academic advising and support services for athletes, plus a program to monitor their progress, administered by a new coordinator under the employ of the athletic department.

Again, it’s strange to think of an athletic department without an academic advising component to it (the current VT Student Athlete Academic Support Services department is run by Chris Helms), but to that point, one hadn’t existed at Virginia Tech. In early September, Tech named Jerry Via as its Coordinator of Academic Advising for Student Athletes, which one source told TSL was a critical part to turning around Virginia Tech’s athletic department.

“Dr. Via would meet with freshman athletes,” this source recalled, “and he would tell them, ‘There are three components to the life of a student-athlete: athletics, academics, and your social life. Pick the two you’re going to concentrate on.’ Jerry Via brought a no-nonsense attitude to the department that was needed.”

Moir Resigns

After dragging on for months, the question of Charlie Moir’s future at Virginia Tech was finally settled on October 2nd, 1987, when Moir resigned his post as Virginia Tech’s head basketball coach. Moir was in Kansas City, where he, interim AD Ray Smoot, and school president William Lavery, among other Tech officials, were appearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

It was that point at which Moir and his attorney were able to come to a settlement with Virginia Tech, which agreed to pay Moir for the last two years of his contract, valued at $125,000 annually in salary and perks. Moir pocketed the $250,000 and stepped out of the way, and Virginia Tech quickly named assistant coach Frankie Allen as interim head coach.

It was the past that forced Moir out, but Moir also appeared to see the handwriting on the wall for Virginia Tech basketball. In some telling comments he made to the Hokie Huddler at the time, Moir bemoaned how difficult recruiting was becoming, particularly in light of recent NCAA rule changes that limited the number of visits a coaching staff could make to a prospect. The changes put schools like Tech at a disadvantage, compared to heavyweights like North Carolina and the ACC schools that surrounded Tech.

“The bigger-name schools have an advantage now,” Moir told the Huddler. “The Big East and ACC teams get all the exposure in this area. Before, we could outwork other schools to get quality players. But we can’t do that anymore. Because of losing out on some good players, we wound up taking some chances that really came back to haunt us.”

One source TSL spoke with agreed, saying, “When Virginia Tech was recruiting Dell Curry, between his basketball and baseball games, they watched him play 27 times his senior year. Once the rules changed … ” our source shrugged, “you couldn’t do that anymore.”

In the early 1980s, Moir and his staff signed two recruiting classes that comprised the backbone of his most successful teams. In two years, the Hokies inked Al Young, Perry Young, Keith Colbert, Bobby Beecher, and Dell Curry. From that point on, though, the Hokies struggled to get good players, and they rolled the dice on transfers and junior college players, most of whom didn’t work out, and some of whom became nightmares for the program: Johnny Fort (Iowa transfer), Russell Pierre (NC State), Wally Lancaster (Maryland), and Dave Burgess (junior college), among others. Lancaster was a decent player during his Tech career, but Burgess was a role player, and Fort and Pierre were simply bad news, as detailed previously in this series.

Bimbo Coles (shown at right) was the only impact player that Charlie Moir, in his last four years coaching Tech, was able to sign directly out of high school. Technically, the Hokies signed Mike Porter out of Pulaski County High School in 1985, but Porter failed to qualify and had to go the JUCO route. The Hokies narrowly missed resigning Porter in April of 1987, when the investigation became public and Porter went to St. John’s instead.

The Lavery Situation

The dissolution of the VTAA, the creation of an academic advising office, and the search for a new athletic director, which was underway, were all steps that school president Bill Lavery envisioned in his ongoing effort to bring athletics back under university control. Lavery had said many times that “control” was the key in running a clean, successful athletic program, and his time on the NCAA Presidents Commission had convinced him that Virginia Tech’s program needed to be brought under university control.

In a September 1987 speech to Tech administrators, Lavery had vowed (as he had been doing for well over a year) to correct the problems in Tech athletics, but in a telling statement, he acknowledged “the survival rate of presidents who attempt to do so is impressively low.”

In many respects, Lavery had been an outstanding president of the university. From 1974-1987, Lavery had continued the work started by T. Marshall Hahn, who was Virginia Tech’s president from 1962-1974. Hahn had transformed Virginia Tech from a small, largely military school into a coeducational, multiracial research university with a thriving college of arts and sciences (created by Hahn) and burgeoning graduate programs.

Lavery picked up the ball from Hahn, and during Lavery’s tenure, Virginia Tech had continued to grow in stature and in the standing of its academic programs and the quality of its applicants and enrollees. Lavery had overseen the most successful fund-raising program in the history of the university and generally received high marks from his fellow administrators and school faculty.

But the athletic department mess was catching up to Lavery. It was Lavery who had assigned the dual role of AD and football coach to Bill Dooley, ultimately costing the university a million dollars to settle Dooley’s contract in the unpleasant business that had happened in late 1986 (detailed in The Year of Our Discontent, Part 1 and Part 2).

Then the Hokies had to shell out $250,000 to Moir, and still lurking around out there was Dutch Baughman, who was rumored to be considering a suit against VT, as well. (Baughman never did sue Tech, and Tech never did pay him for the remainder of his contract.)

But beyond the lawsuits and settlements, Lavery’s administration, while well-intentioned, bumbled around like a bull in a china shop when it came to athletic matters, from the Dooley mess to the Baughman mess to the ridiculous investigation into the basketball program, led by William Van Dresser. Lavery also confessed to admitting some marginal students into the football and basketball programs after VT’s admissions office had already turned them down. One wonders why a university president would become involved in the admissions status of individual athletes, but Lavery admitted having done so.

On October 15th, 1987, just two weeks after Charlie Moir’s resignation, Lavery’s mistakes and mismanagement caught up to him, and he too announced his resignation, effective November 16th. To date, the athletic mess at Virginia Tech had been carrying on for over a year and had claimed one football coach (Bill Dooley), two athletic directors (Dooley and Dutch Baughman), one basketball coach (Charlie Moir), and one school president (Bill Lavery).

And there was still that matter of the upcoming NCAA rulings on Virginia Tech’s football and basketball programs.

Black Monday

For Virginia Tech, judgment day came on Monday, October 26th, 1987. That’s the day that the NCAA handed down its rulings on the Tech football and basketball programs. On that day, both football and basketball at Virginia Tech were put on probation, an unusual double-whammy that marked the low point for athletics at the university.

In football, the university was found to have issued 32 more scholarships than allowed over a three-year period, from 1983-84 to 1985-86. At the time, the NCAA allowed 95 players on scholarship at any given time, so one is prone to the vision of over a hundred players running around on the sidelines during a Virginia Tech game, but that wasn’t the case. In a strange twist, Dooley had awarded the extra scholarships in the spring and summer, but during the season, Virginia Tech was always at or below the NCAA maximum of 95 total grants and 25 true freshman grants.

Dooley denied any intentional wrongdoing, saying that the violations occurred as an honest misinterpretation of the rules, especially with regards to whether rules applied at the end of a calendar year or a school year. Dooley went over the limit mostly by granting spring scholarships to walk-ons whose eligibility had expired, and they would serve as “student coaches” during spring practice. Dooley also awarded scholarships during the spring to walk-ons who still had eligibility remaining.

During the spring, that would push Virginia Tech over the limit, but when the fall season started, the Hokies were always at or below 95 scholarships, with 25 true freshman scholarships. Dooley maintained that his rule-breaking was unintentional and that Virginia Tech never gained a competitive advantage from it, but the NCAA disagreed.

“Dooley said something over and over during this time period,” one source told TSL, “and I could never figure out if he was really that dumb, or dumb like a fox, you know what I mean? He kept saying that fifth-year players didn’t count. And sure enough, if you went back at any time and counted up the number of players he had on scholarship, and then you subtracted out the fifth-year players, he was right at 95 scholarships.”

The NCAA got pretty nasty with Tech, slapping the program with probation and the following terms:

  • Three years probation, with the third suspended because Virginia Tech had turned itself in.
  • Total scholarship limits of 85 (instead of the NCAA-allowed 95) for the 1988-89 and 1989-90 school years.
  • A maximum of 17 grants to incoming players in the 1988 recruiting class and 13 in the 1989 recruiting class. The NCAA allowed 25 new players a year, meaning that over a two-year period, the Hokies could only sign 30 players instead of the normal 50.

There was no postseason ban and no television ban, but the NCAA had hit the program where it hurt the most: scholarships. And the penalty was perceived as being more harsh than the crime. Why? It went back to the mess with Bruce Smith and the 1984 Independence Bowl, as detailed in The Year of Our Discontent, Part 1. Smith was ineligible to play in the game because of past recruiting violations committed by VT, but he had gotten an injunction and played anyway.

When providence reared its head in 1987 and the NCAA had the chance, it dropped the hammer on the Hokies, and then some. More than one source that TSL spoke with said that the NCAA never forgot the Smith situation and “definitely” took it out on the Hokies when given the opportunity years later.

The reduction in scholarships hurt the Hokies for years. During Virginia Tech’s painful 2-8-1 season of 1992 that nearly got Frank Beamer fired, VT play-by-play announcer Bill Roth made a great point: the 20 scholarships lost in 1988 and 1989 would have belonged to redshirt seniors, true seniors, and redshirt juniors in 1992, players that would have added valuable depth and leadership to a Tech team that routinely coughed up games in the last five minutes of that season.

On the basketball side, the penalties were not nearly as bad, but still painful. The Hokies were barred from postseason play for two years, 1988 and 1989, in a sport where postseason play is the be-all and the end-all of a program. The Hokies defied the experts by posting an impressive 19-10 record in 1987-88, behind Frankie Allen and a surprising sophomore named Bimbo Coles, but the postseason ban meant that there was no NIT or NCAA for Virginia Tech. VT basketball was in the dumps for most of the next 15 years, though Tech’s decline in hoops can be traced more to the decline of the Metro Conference and the recruiting difficulties foreseen by Charlie Moir, than to probation.

Conclusions

It had been 13 horrible months since Bill Dooley had first filed suit against Virginia Tech in September of 1986 to the final fate of the football and basketball programs in October of 1987. Along the way, Virginia Tech had become a laughing stock, as administrators, coaches, and athletic department officials carried on public spats and conducted cloak-and-dagger investigations that made for great newspaper copy and humiliated the university.

It is remarkable that Virginia Tech athletics are where they are today: healthy, vibrant, running solidly in the black financially, and members of an expanded Atlantic Coast Conference (a conference that Charlie Moir longed to be a part of but publicly admitted the Hokies never would be).

In 1987, Bill Lavery told the press that unless ticket sales and fundraising improved at Virginia Tech, the Hokies should consider dropping to 1-AA status. He was serious, not ranting. Virginia Tech’s budgets back then ran about $5.5 million a year, a full $3 million less than Tech’s peer institutions in Division 1-A, and with the disarray in the athletic program, the future looked bleak.

As an educated Hokie fan, you know how Virginia Tech has reached its present status: through years of hard work by administrators like former VT president Paul Torgersen, athletic directors like Dave Braine and Jim Weaver, football coach Frank Beamer, and athletes like Maurice DeShazo, Cornell Brown, Jim Druckenmiller, and Michael Vick. Not to mention tens of thousands of Hokie fans who have thrown their support behind the program and made $5.5 million athletic budgets things of the past. And not to mention, just plain dumb luck.

But the magnitude of the reversal of fortunate in Virginia Tech athletics can only be appreciated when viewed in the light of history. Virginia Tech athletics were in a shambles in 1987, but just 17 years later, had become the toast of the ACC, fielding a championship football team and a surprise fourth-place men’s basketball team.

It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies, the improbable rise of the underdog. Had we not lived through it, we wouldn’t have believed it could happen. But happen it did, and only by looking back on “The Year of Our Discontent” can we truly understand the great times we live in today. Virginia Tech sports have come a long, long way, long after most had left the Hokies for dead. Don’t forget the story told here, because it will make you better appreciate the stories being told today in Virginia Tech athletics.

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