The Year of Our Discontent, Part 4

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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, and Part 3 covered the beginning of the story about the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team.

Our story thus far:

  • The Virginia Tech basketball team, thin on scholarship players in 1986-87, lost two more in a short time period. Key transfer Russell Pierre was declared academically ineligible in December of 1986. Johnny Fort, another transfer who had been in Blacksburg a year and failed to crack the starting lineup, quit in late December/early January.
  • On March 10th, 1987, two VT players went to the campus police, alleging NCAA violations and perhaps criminal violations within the VT basketball program. Tech vice president Bill Van Dresser launched an investigation into the program, hiring Chicago lawyers Mike Slive (now commissioner of the SEC) and Mike Glazier to check out the VT program. Van Dresser felt that Slive and Glazier found enough in the early part of their research to warrant a full investigation, so he told VT Athletic Director Dutch Baughman on March 19th. Baughman was irritated that he hadn’t been told right away and that the investigation had been launched without his knowledge.
  • The story hit the media on April 9th, and Baughman didn’t hide his anger at being excluded. The Hokies lost key recruits Mike Porter and Fred McCoy because of the investigation. At the time, the media thought it was one player (Fort) who had gone to the Tech police. Fort denied it, as did Pierre. Former player Mark Whitaker told the media that he had told the campus police, when questioned, that there were violations within the program, but he wouldn’t identify the “other” player who had gone to the police.
  • Head basketball coach Charlie Moir was also kept in the dark about the investigation. He wasn’t told who had brought the allegations to the police, or what the allegations were. Moir hired attorney S.D. Roberts Moore, who had previously represented Bill Dooley in Dooley’s departure from VT.

A Stormy April

In early April of 1987, as news of the investigation into VT’s basketball program hit the mainstream press, VT’s administration acknowledged in a terse statement released through the public affairs office that allegations had been made, the school was checking them out, and the NCAA had been notified. As you can imagine, that lit the media on fire, and there was plenty of kindling lying around.

Dutch Baughman had been shut out of the investigation, which angered him, and other things were rankling Baughman, who had only been on the job about three and a half months. He was said to be disturbed that he had not been properly informed of the extent of the athletic department’s financial troubles. The Hokies were about $4 million in debt, and Baughman told confidants that he had been told the department was only $1 million in debt.

The week of April 11-17, right after the story of the investigation hit the press, the university shifted gears. President Bill Lavery and Board of Visitors Rector Alexander Giacco started putting together a panel of BOV members and prominent faculty members to review the allegations and make recommendations to Lavery and the BOV.

According to one source TSL spoke with, this presented a window for Baughman to get involved again. “They called Dutch up at his apartment and told him, ‘We’re not finding much. We want you to get involved and bring this thing home.'”

Baughman’s response was unprintable, we were told. Let’s just say it was an emphatic “no.”

Our source sighed and told us, “Dutch probably should have said yes. If he had said yes, maybe things would have gone differently, and died out, without the NCAA getting involved. But instead, what he did [saying no] made it a case of the athletic department against the school administration.”

Lavery and the BOV put together a six-member panel — one that didn’t include Baughman or any other representatives from the athletic department — and handed the investigation over to them. Baughman denounced publicly the way the investigation was being handled and stated that he refused to be a part of it.

Through April 26th, the panel tried a few more times to convince Baughman to get involved, but he refused each time, turning his rift with university officials into a gulf. It was a sad, pathetic situation: Van Dresser had erred in not including Baughman from the start, and Baughman’s refusal to put aside his anger only made the situation go from bad to worse.

More importantly, it put the university administration in the position of almost having to find something wrong with the basketball program, given that VT had spent tens of thousand of dollars (eventually over $100,000, one source said) on outside investigators and was now in the position of having to justify that expenditure, plus having to justify an investigation that had stirred up the fans and media with some juicy charges.

It was under these conditions that the six-member investigative panel took over. Rumors swirled that Baughman had submitted his resignation and that it had been refused, or he had been convinced to stay. Baughman denied it.

The Final Straw

The investigative committee said it would provide its report by May 15th, but that date came and went with no new information and no report. After April’s flurry of ugly press, May was mostly quiet, as the media waited and wondered what was going on.

On May 29th, though, the VT administration gave Baughman another hard slap in the face: Virginia Tech appointed a liaison between the university and the NCAA. Their pick? W. George Devens, the director of Tech’s Division of Engineering Fundamentals.

Say what?

You read it right. Dutch Baughman, having come from the SWC, was perceived as a specialist in NCAA compliance matters, but when it came time to pick a liaison between Tech and the NCAA — a job normally performed by the athletic director, and one for which Baughman was perfectly suited — the university administration picked a member of the engineering faculty.

As you can imagine, that was the final straw for Baughman. The administration had sent him a clear message, treating him as a lightweight outsider, and Baughman heard that message loud and clear.

On June 4th, 1987, less than six months after his hiring, Dutch Baughman quit Virginia Tech. And the fashion in which he quit (as you might guess by now) was publicly humiliating for the university.

First, Baughman held an 11 a.m. press conference outlining his reasons for quitting. Then Lavery held a 2:45 p.m. press conference, responding to Baughman’s allegations. Then Baughman held a late afternoon “press briefing” in which he called Lavery’s statements “sheep dip.”

The dueling press conferences were further embarrassment for a university already heaped in embarrassment — senior administrative officials were having a public spat, highlighting the huge lack of communication that had developed between them.

In his morning press conference, Baughman told the media:

  • He had been told when interviewing for the VT job that the athletic department would not be responsible for the $1 million for the Dooley settlement. Shortly after taking the job, he found that the $1 million would come from the athletic department’s operating budget.
  • He had been told when interviewing for the VT job that the athletic department’s indebtedness was just over $1 million. He learned after taking the job that it was well over $3 million.
  • He had not been told when interviewing for the VT job that the football program was under investigation for exceeding the 95-scholarship limit.

Add in Baughman’s exclusion from the early stages of the basketball investigation, and the appointment of a faculty member to serve as liaison with the NCAA, and he had had enough.

In his press conference, Lavery denied everything Baughman said and fired back that the university would check into whether Baughman had breached his contract, which called for 90 days notice before resigning.

After Lavery’s press conference, Baughman met with the media again, and this time he carried in a big stack of documentation from his tenure as AD. He notified the press that he had hired S.D. Roberts Moore as his council, hinting that legal action might be forthcoming, though Baughman wouldn’t directly answer the press when they asked that question. It was in this meeting with the press that Baughman, when informed of Lavery’s comments, called them “sheep dip.” (The exact contents of “sheep dip” are left to the reader’s imagination.)

The spectacle of Baughman and Lavery going at it in front of the media demeaned both men and the university, which was rapidly taking on a Keystone Kops air in its handling of the athletic department. The BOV met on June 6th, two days after Baughman’s resignation, and fired back, maintaining that the university had provided all the information to Baughman that he said they hadn’t, including information on the football investigation and the athletic department’s indebtedness. They also hinted that Baughman, in refusing to have anything to do with the basketball investigation, was arrogant, insubordinate, and obstructive. Baughman told the media that he had never been ordered to join the investigation, just that it had been hinted to him that he take part in it.

What a mess. And through it all, the six-member panel conducting the investigation into the basketball program delayed its report from May 15th to July 1st, a six-week delay from their original May 15th date.

On June 9th, Lavery named Dr. Ray Smoot, Virginia Tech’s treasurer and associate vice president for finance, as interim athletic director. Smoot’s main job was to tackle Virginia Tech’s athletic debt, which had reached a total of $4.5 million.

Lavery also spoke to the press in detail for the first time on April 12th, telling the media that his clashes with two athletic directors — Dooley and Baughman — were a result of his efforts to take control of athletics at the university. Lavery had spent three years on the NCAA Presidents Council, during which he had decided that he needed to bring athletics more under his control, or more precisely, the university’s control. (Virginia Tech athletics was not organized or administered in the same fashion that it is now, something that we’ll delve into later in this series.)

Bowed and bloodied in the PR department, the university got another shock just a few days later, when Virginia governor Gerald Baliles used his platform as Virginia Tech commencement speaker, on June 13th, 1987, to blast the university for its ambition to “break records in gate receipts,” and to “receive glory on the playing field.” Baliles said that such goals “are neither part of our commonwealth’s history, nor of the legacy of this university … they are not the ambitions of Virginians who care about education and care about Virginia Tech.”

Baliles, who as governor had the power to appoint university boards, said that unless board members up for reappointment could demonstrate a commitment to redirect the university toward academic excellence, that person would not be reappointed. He also said he would ask BOV members who didn’t agree to step down before their terms were up.

“Baliles’ blast,” as it was called at the time, was a departure from the usual look-boldly-into-the-future speeches given by commencement speakers. He heaped more embarrassment on a university that had already become the object of ridicule and criticism among the state media, alumni, and fans.

And as June drew to a close, the university’s investigation into its basketball program drew to a close as well. The long-awaited report from the six-member panel plus Slive and Glazier to Lavery and the BOV was coming soon. Everything was rumored: free cars for athletes, “no work” jobs for players, free meals, cash and gifts, and even passing grades for failed courses. How much of it was true and how much of it was hype?


Up Next:The violations committed by the basketball program are outlined, and more higher-ups at VT take the fall, as the bloodletting continues.