The Year of Our Discontent, Part 3

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in our series about Virginia Tech being put on probation for football and basketball in the mid-late 1980s. Parts 1 and 2 covered Bill Dooley’s departure from Virginia Tech as football coach and AD, a cut-and-dried story that was fairly easy to follow.

Part 3 — this installment — begins coverage of the mess that overcame the VT basketball program, a story that is not easy to follow. It has been challenging to research and to make sense of what happened to Charlie Moir’s basketball program, and it’s a hard story to present in digestible form. So pay close attention, Hokie fans, to names and dates. It’s complex, but it all ties together.

Whether you’ll like reading it or not is another matter entirely, but the advice stands: clear your mind and concentrate. — Will

The Virginia Tech athletic program had been through some tough times in 1986, but things appeared to have stabilized and improved as the year came to a close. Bill Dooley’s messy divorce from Virginia Tech, both as athletic director and football coach, was over, and the university had hired a new AD and new football coach.

The new Virginia Tech Athletic Director was Dale T. “Dutch” Baughman (pronounced BOCK-man), an associate commissioner of the Southwest Conference. Baughman won the job over 95 other applicants, and Virginia Tech felt he fit the role of what they were looking for: an athletic director with broad experience in business, finance, and management.

Just 37 years old, Baughman was an instant hit, personality-wise, with Tech alumni, boosters, faculty and students. One of Baughman’s first public appearances was at half time of a VT men’s basketball game against South Carolina, when the mustachioed, cowboy boot-wearing Baughman showed up in a maroon blazer and an orange and maroon Gobbler sweater. He presented the Peach Bowl championship trophy to VT’s football team. Unafraid to embrace VT’s culture, Baughman introduced himself by shaking a gobbler noise maker into the microphone, drawing cheers from the fans in attendance.

A first-ever bowl win, a new charismatic AD, and a young football coach — Frank Beamer — who was a VT alumnus and had been a winner at Division 1-AA Murray State. Sure, the athletic department was struggling financially, but the future was bright.

But in the VT men’s basketball program, arguably the flagship athletic program of the university, trouble was brewing. Under head coach Charlie Moir, the Hokies had notched ten straight winning seasons, including five straight 20-win campaigns. But as they entered the 1986-87 season, the Hokies were short on players, with just ten scholarship players on the roster. In the last two years, they had lost stars Al Young, Perry Young, Bobby Beecher, Keith Colbert, and Dell Curry to graduation, and the team had become a patchwork quilt of role players like Roy Brow, Phil Williams, and Tim Anderson.

The team had a freshman point guard, Bimbo Coles, and was leaning heavily on three transfers: guard Johnny Fort from Iowa, who had played with VT the previous year; guard Wally Lancaster from Maryland, who was eligible in the fall; and forward Russell Pierre from NC State, who wouldn’t be eligible until Tech’s fifth game, at the end of the Fall quarter of classes. All three were highly regarded, especially Pierre, who Moir said was “the best rebounder we’ve had here since Wayne Robinson, and maybe the best ever.”

Still, this hodgepodge of players was going to have trouble winning in the manner to which Hokie fans had become accustomed. They dropped their first three games, edged out a win against Tennessee State at home, and went down to the Gator Bowl tournament in Florida to face Florida and Jacksonville.

The Hokies split, losing to Florida 82-60 and beating Jacksonville 79-77. Pierre played his first two games at the tournament and was as good as promised, delivering 43 points and 33 rebounds in the two games, including a mammoth 21-point, 22-rebound effort against the Gators.

The Hokies came home, and on December 22nd, 1986 in Roanoke, Pierre had 13 points and 10 boards to lead VT to a win over Wake Forest of the ACC. Russell Pierre was without a doubt Tech’s best player, and he gave Tech hope that they could beat anyone on their schedule.

December 29th, the day of Tech’s next game in the Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament, the news broke that Pierre was academically ineligible, rocking the basketball team. After his transfer from NC State, Pierre had taken 17 hours at New River Valley Community College and then had attempted 41 hours at Virginia Tech, back when VT was still on the quarter system. All he needed was 36 hours to be eligible at VT in the fall, and between his NRCC classes and his Tech classes (58 hours total), he was a shoo-in to make it, right?

Wrong. Moir had been told by a university representative on the administrative side, Dr. William Van Dresser, that Pierre’s 17 hours at NRCC would count, but they didn’t. That meant that Pierre had to pass 36 of the 41 hours he took at Virginia Tech … and Pierre passed only 35, leaving him one credit-hour short.

Bad News On Another Front

On that same day, December 29th, Fort quit the team, unsatisfied over a lack of playing time. A ballyhooed transfer, Fort had been supplanted the previous season by lightly-regarded George Caesar, and in the fall of 1986, Lancaster and Coles, along with Caesar, were getting more minutes than Fort.

One source close to the VT basketball program at the time tells a different story, that Charlie Moir kicked Fort off the team for a bad attitude. Having lost Pierre, and facing a long season, Moir snapped at poor behavior by Fort in practice that day and jettisoned him.

Whatever the truth, things looked grim. The Hokies were down to eight scholarship players now, and after being forced to forfeit the Jacksonville and Wake Forest wins, stood at 1-6. They pulled together behind Phil Williams, their lone senior, to win four of their next five, but after they started play in the tough Metro Conference, the wheels fell off. The Hokies went on to finish 10-18, Moir’s first losing season at Tech and just the second losing season in Blacksburg in 32 years (and that is not a typo).

But it wasn’t the on-court performance of the team that would drag down the basketball program and the entire university. It was what started happening off the court in March of 1987.

On March 10th, two former players went to the Virginia Tech police and reported improprieties in the Virginia Tech basketball program. The allegations were juicy stuff: point shaving, gifts for players, free cars for players, academic fraud, players getting paid for jobs they didn’t do, extortion … it was the type of sexy stuff that hinted directly at the seamy underbelly of college athletics. It was real blow-the-lid-off-the-program stuff.

The players made the allegations, unsolicited, to Captain Mike Jones and Dr. Ray Lewis of the Tech police, and that night, Jones and Lewis reported the allegations to their boss, Bill Van Dresser, Tech’s vice president for administration and operations. Van Dresser then made a poor decision, the first of many poor decisions to come on the part of Van Dresser and many others: he contacted Mike Slive, a Chicago lawyer whom the university had already retained to assist in the investigation into the Tech football program for possibly exceeding NCAA scholarship limits.

(If the name Mike Slive sounds familiar, it’s because the Mike Slive in question is the very same Mike Slive who is the current commissioner of the SEC.)

Van Dresser’s decision to call Slive wasn’t so much a bad decision, as his decision not to call Dutch Baughman.

Slive arrived in Blacksburg just a couple of days later with another attorney, Mike Glazier, and the two of them interviewed the two former players. They also conducted a couple other interviews, and what they found prompted Van Dresser to conclude that a full investigation was necessary.

By the time Van Dresser and University Council Jane Bulbin, who had also gotten involved, notified Dutch Baughman of what was going on, it was March 19th, nine days into the investigation. Baughman was understandably livid that Van Dresser, Bulbin, Slive, Glazier, and the VT police had started the investigation without him. But for now, things were still hush-hush, and all the parties involved were trying to figure out how to proceed.

A number of Tech players were interviewed by campus police right around that time (March 19th and 20th), and Moir was interviewed by Glazier on April 3rd, with Glazier’s questions to Moir centering on payments to players and summer jobs for players.

Baughman had told Moir that an investigation was going on, but both men had been left in the dark. They hadn’t been told what the allegations were, and they hadn’t been told what the investigation was about.

Then the Roanoke media got wind of it. On April 9th, a Roanoke TV station reported that an investigation was underway into possible NCAA violations in the basketball program, and on April 10th, the full story hit the Roanoke Times.

With the lid blown off the budding investigation, things got messy. Contacted by the press, Baughman immediately expressed his frustration that he had been shut out of the investigation for over a week (March 10th to March 19th), telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “It’s an embarrassment that I don’t know enough about it. But you can be sure that I’m going to try and find out.”

At the time, the media thought it was only one player that had gone to the police, and sources said it was Johnny Fort. Fort denied on April 12th that he was the one who had gone to police. Russell Pierre, when contacted by the Times-Dispatch, was downright gracious. “There was nothing going on at Tech when I was there,” Pierre told the RT-D. “Coach Moir is a good coach. He’s straight up. No illegal stuff.”

Likewise, Fort denied everything. He said he had been interviewed about payments to players and point shaving, but “All my answers were negative,” he said, “No coach ever offered me any money, and as far as I know, Coach Moir and the others never did anything illegal. I never told them anything that could have started any investigation.”

Among “former players,” Pierre and Fort are the two that would have an axe to grind, and both had denied starting the investigation. Moir and Baughman were still in the dark, both men on the outside looking in. Unnamed people were making unspecified accusations, with the head coach and athletic director being held at arm’s length while university administrators, campus police, and two Chicago lawyers carried on a secret investigation. It was a big, fat conspiracy steak for the media to sink their teeth into, and the whole affair quickly turned into a circus.

Then Mark Whitaker opened his mouth.


A Player Steps Forward

“Former player” Mark Whitaker, that’s who. Whitaker had played for the Hokies for three years, from 1983-84 through 1985-86, before quitting the team prior to the 1986-87 season. Described by one basketball insider as “a great kid, smart, but he couldn’t play a lick,” Whitaker was a career reserve who barely ever saw court time.

Whitaker was also a bit of an oddity. As a sophomore, Whitaker had requested to stay home on road trips to concentrate on academics. That was fine during the 84-85 season, when VT had 13 scholarship players, but going into 85-86, they were short on bodies, down to about 10 or 11 players, and Moir developed a problem with Whitaker’s unwillingness to go on road trips.

Whitaker insisted on staying home, though, and during the summer of 1986, after Whitaker’s junior season, Moir tried to revoke his scholarship. “He quit the team, in my mind,” Moir told the press, speaking of Whitaker’s lack of commitment during the 85-86 season. Whitaker got a lawyer and kept his scholarship on appeal, because VT had missed the July 1 deadline for scholarship revocation.

Despite retaining his scholarship, Whitaker and the VT basketball team had a mutual parting of the ways, and Whitaker was not on the team for 1986-87. When the investigators came calling, Whitaker talked, unlike the other players on the team. “There were a whole lot of violations,” he told the press, “just about everything you can think of.”

Whitaker knew who “the player” was who had triggered the investigation with a visit to the Tech police, but he wouldn’t name him. Current players and former players, including freshman Bimbo Coles, denied any wrongdoing to the press, leaving Whitaker and the other unnamed player as the only ones to allege wrongdoing in the program.

Meanwhile, the investigation was hitting the program where it always hurts worst: recruiting. Mike Porter, a former High School McDonald’s All-American from nearby Pulaski County, had signed with VT in 1985 but had to go the JUCO route, where he had a successful career at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. Porter had done his two-year stint at San Jacinto and was ready to sign with the Hokies again in April of 1987 … but the investigation into the program caused Porter to balk, and he dealt the Hokies a serious blow when he decided in mid-April to attend St. John’s, a campus he had never even visited. Porter chose to follow San Jacinto teammate Greg “Boo” Harvey to St. John’s, where the two would play together two more years.

Tech’s second-best recruit that year was Fred McCoy, a forward from Allen County (Kan.) Community College who had averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Hokies had a signed LOI from McCoy for the spring signing period, but VT held onto the LOI and didn’t send it into the NCAA, out of respect for McCoy and the investigation that was going on.

The Hokies would later lose McCoy to Kansas State in mid-May, gutting a recruiting class that Moir hoped would help rebuild the talent-depleted Hokies.

By mid-April, Moir had retained the services of Roanoke lawyer S.D. Roberts Moore — the same attorney who had represented Bill Dooley and gotten a $1 million settlement — Baughman was rumored to have submitted his resignation (which was not accepted), and on April 12th, the university postponed a meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, when the committee was to have heard Tech’s defense of charges that it had exceed NCAA scholarship limits in its football program.

Apparently, Virginia Tech’s administration had the idea that they should develop all of the information about the basketball allegations and present it to the NCAA Committee on Infractions at the same time as the information on football scholarships.

RT-D columnist John Markon wrote aptly, “The [VT] administrators making the request might as well have sent a telegram to [the NCAA] saying, ‘Hold it, guys! More juice on the way!'”

Baughman was seething, Moir had hired a lawyer, and Slive and Glazier, hired by Van Dresser, were having trouble finding traction in their investigation. Bad? Sure, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Next: Dutch Baughman gets fed up, and the investigation drags on.