The Year of Our Discontent, Part 5

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth 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 Parts 3 and 4 covered the beginning of the investigation into the basketball program, and the resignation of athletic director Dutch Baughman.

The month of June 1987 was an embarrassing one for Virginia Tech. First their athletic director, Dutch Baughman, quit on a day in which he and school president Bill Lavery held ridiculous, dueling “he-said, he-said” press conferences. Then Virginia governor Gerald Baliles blasted the school in a speech at Virginia Tech’s own commencement ceremony. And to top it all off, the results of the investigation into the basketball program still hadn’t been released.

On the day that Dutch Baughman quit, he and Lavery held back-and-forth press conferences, including one in which Baughman called Lavery’s statements “sheep dip.” Baughman was angry that he had initially been excluded from the investigation into the basketball program, which was being run by Virginia Tech vice president William Van Dresser and two Chicago Lawyers, Mike Slive and Mike Glazier.

Baughman also said that when interviewing for the VT job, he hadn’t been told the extent of the Tech athletic department’s indebtedness (he thought it was $1 million, when it was closer to $5 million), nor had he been told about the investigation into the football program, which was being checked out by the NCAA for exceeding the 95-scholarship limit.

Lavery denied those assertions when Baughman quit on June 4th, and for the remainder of the month, Lavery, Virginia Tech officials, and Tech’s Board of Visitors came out swinging. Since the time that Bill Dooley had filed suit against Virginia Tech in September of 1986, Virginia Tech’s administration had stayed mostly quiet on the turmoil in the athletic department, but in June of 1987, the VT administration launched a PR counter-offensive.

Days after Baughman resigned, the BOV met and said that yes, Baughman had been informed of the investigation into the football program, and yes, he had been given the complete financial picture on Tech athletics. BOV rector Alexander Giacco spoke to the press, and in addition to denying Baughman’s assertions, Giacco hinted that Baughman had been arrogant, insubordinate, and obstructive when he repeatedly refused to have anything to do with the basketball investigation.

Lavery allowed himself to be interviewed at length, and he talked about how his goal was to bring the athletic department under university control and make it accountable to the university administration. Back in the mid-1980’s, Virginia Tech’s athletic department was run by a private, independent corporation called the Virginia Tech Athletic Association, which administered the finances and operation of the department. VTAA employees were not employees of Virginia Tech, and as such were not state employees and were not subject to the same rules and regulations under which the rest of the university operated.

These days, of course, the athletic department is under university control, even though it operates as a separate entity, with its own finances and administration. Ultimately though, those that run the athletic department are accountable to the university administration and the Board of Visitors. This wasn’t true back in the mid-1980s, and when Lavery looked at the independent VTAA, he told the media that he saw something that needed to be brought under the control of the university. He painted a picture of himself as a university president trying to do the right thing with regards to athletics.

Minnis Ridenour, Tech’s vice president for finance, said that when he interviewed Baughman in late 1986 for the AD job, he gave Baughman a 50-page packet containing an overview on the financial status of every phase of the athletic program, including its indebtedness. Ridenour even furnished the press with a copy of the packet.

The VT administration grumbled to the press that Baughman, by quitting abruptly, had breached his contract, which called for 90 days notice in the event of Baughman’s resignation.

Lastly, unnamed sources in the VT administration attempted to discredit Baughman by telling the press, among other things, that Baughman had submitted a $7.6 million athletics budget for 1987-88 that would have run the department over $2 million in the red, in a day of $5-$6 million athletic budgets at VT.

Baughman denied all of these allegations through the press, leading to more tit-for-tat newspaper articles throughout the month of June and beyond. Like most of Tech’s athletic department saga for the last nine months, it made for great soap-opera reading, but it also made the university look silly.

The University Receives the Results of the Investigation

On June 22nd, Glazier and Slive presented the findings of their basketball investigation to the six-member panel that was now overseeing the probe. The panel received the report … and sat on it, saying they intended to forward it to Lavery within ten days.

It appeared that the investigation was over, and all that was left to do was wait until its results became public and Virginia Tech announced their intentions and forwarded the report to the NCAA. But then two more things happened to make a bad situation worse.

On June 22nd, as the panel was receiving Glazier and Slive’s report, a special grand jury was impaneled in Montgomery County to investigate allegations of extortion charges made against a former VT basketball player. The press quickly figured out that the player was Russell Pierre, an NC State transfer who had played three games in December before being declared academically ineligible and being dismissed from the team. The target of his alleged extortion attempt was heavily rumored to be Charlie Moir himself, though Commonwealth Attorney J. Patrick Graybeal said Moir wasn’t the one targeted.

On June 24th, shooting guard Wally Lancaster told the media that the VT campus police offered to “take care” of $300 worth of parking tickets Lancaster had amassed, if Lancaster would corroborate the allegations that Iowa transfer Johnny Fort had made to the police, the same charges that had kicked off the whole investigation into the basketball program in early March. Lancaster said the university police “were trying to persuade me to say something negative about Coach Moir.” Lancaster said he “got out of there as soon as possible” and later paid his own tickets.

It seemed there was no end to the embarrassment for Virginia Tech. Opening up the newspaper every day was an adventure.

That’s where things stood as the Hokie world waited for the information from the investigation into the basketball program, waited to find out what the violations were that had led to so much mayhem and humiliation for the university and its athletic department. The rumors included: Tech players receiving full pay for little work done as summer maintenance assistants at a Roanoke apartment complex; Pierre’s wife receiving a car from an alumnus; Fort receiving a tryout before transferring to Tech from Iowa; former player Roy Brow receiving gifts from Tech coaches; cash payments to players; coaches and university alumni providing transportation and meals to players; and academic improprieties.

What had Glazier and Slive found? Were any of the allegations true? Were all of them true?

The Other Shoe Drops … And it’s a Penny Loafer

On June 30th, the six-member panel heading up the investigation presented a 22-page report to VT’s Board of Visitors outlining Glazier and Slive’s findings. And on July 2nd, nearly four months after the probe had started, Tech’s administration met with the press and released the findings.

A dozen NCAA violations were outlined in the press conference, and while that sounds nasty, the truth was that Glazier and Slive’s investigation didn’t turn up much of any substance. Of the dozen violations, only a couple were considered major.

The minor violations:

1.) Several high schoolers being recruited by Tech participated in a pickup game with VT varsity players.

2.) A coach, no longer employed by VT, observed the game.

3.) A VT coach employed a tutor for a prospective student-athlete.

4.) A coach and an alumnus arranged for players to receive reduced-cost lodging during the summer in Roanoke.

5.) Several players received free meals at a restaurant owned by a VT alumnus.

6.) A recruit received a souvenir during an on-campus visit.

7.) VT ran a “foster parents” program for the players, in which alumni acted as second families for players (not an NCAA violation), and some of the foster parents gave Christmas gifts to two players (a violation). The foster parents program had been discontinued by 1986-87.

8.) A player received several meals at Blacksburg restaurants and was loaned a car by a “foster parent” for a trip home.

9.) A recruit was driven from Blacksburg to the Roanoke airport by an alumnus.

10.) A player sold complimentary game tickets.

Not exactly program-destroying stuff, but there were two more serious allegations:

11.) A faculty member tried to award an independent study course grade to a player before the player had completed the work for the course, in an attempt to keep the player eligible. Furthermore, a VT coach knew about it.

12.) An alumnus who owned a car dealership provided financing for a car purchased by the wife of a player.

Violations 11 and 12, the two serious ones, centered around Russell Pierre. In December of 1986, after Fall quarter grades had come in, it was discovered that Pierre was one credit shy of eligibility. Among other things, Pierre was failing an “Indoor Plants” course. (It sounds like a crib course, but one TSL source said, “Anyone who would suggest Indoor Plants as a crib course is insane — it required you to memorize the Latin names of over 300 plants.”)

The basketball program — not Charlie Moir, but the nebulous “basketball program” — in collusion with physical education professor Margaret Driscoll, arranged an independent study course for Pierre. Driscoll attempted to record a passing grade for Pierre before he submitted the required work … a paper on “A History of the Metro Conference.” A Tech provost got wind of it and blew the whistle, leading to Driscoll being publicly censured and Pierre being declared academically ineligible.

As for the car financing for the wife of a former player, Pierre’s wife Sadhia was the recipient of a $7,200 personal auto loan from Bill Matthews, owner of Highland Volkswagen, so Sadhia could purchase a 1984 Audi.

If the name Bill Matthews sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the same Bill “Moose” Matthews referenced in earlier chapters of our story. Matthews was a 1950’s VT basketball letterman and a long-time VT associate athletic director who found himself at odds with athletic director Bill Dooley in 1985, when Dooley put Matthews on administrative leave. Matthews was tight with big donor money, and when Dooley put Matthews on leave, money stopped coming in to the athletic department, triggering to some extent Dooley’s downfall.

Where’s the Beef?

Charlie Moir’s attorney, S.D. Roberts Moore, scoffed at the charges and portrayed the entire investigation as a witch hunt to bring his client down. And indeed, among those who had followed the whole sordid tale from its start, the reaction was overwhelming:

“That’s it?”

Van Dresser’s investigative team, which according to one source had cost the university over $100,000, hadn’t found much of substance, with the exception of the violations involving Russell Pierre. There was no point-shaving, no shoeboxes full of money, and in short, no systemic, repetitive violations. The findings cleared Charlie Moir, who had been put through hell, of any wrongdoing. Most shared the opinion of S.D. Roberts Moore that what they were witnessing was a witch hunt, as well as an effort by Van Dresser to “cover his ass,” (according to more than one source) since he had started the whole mess by hiring Glazier and Slive in the first place.

That’s not to say that the basketball program looked good. In an unexpected development, a third of the 22-page report concentrated on the academic deficiencies of the program. It was revealed that:

  • 80% of the 1986-87 men’s basketball squad had grade point averages below 2.0.
  • Only 37% of the players admitted between 1978 and 1981 had graduated by 1987.
  • No player admitted between 1982 and 1986 had received a degree. (This stat was misleading, since players enrolling in 1984-1986 hadn’t been there long enough to get degrees. 53% of players admitted in the 82-86 time frame were still in school, making progress towards a degree, and former player Mark Whitaker, who entered in 1982, had graduated in June of 1986.)

Many players were enrolled in courses commonly known as “basket-weaving” courses, and in the words of the report, “In reviewing the academic records of basketball athletes, it is evident that most are not serious students. Individuals have been advised to take courses in order to remain eligible, not to make progress towards a degree.”

So while rampant NCAA violations were not the case, it was true that the academic performance, or lack thereof, of the team as a whole was alarming. It was exactly the sort of thing that Bill Lavery wanted to fix by bringing the athletic department under university control.

If the investigation had been a witch hunt designed to take down Charlie Moir, then it had succeeded. Despite not being found personally culpable, it was obvious that Moir was going to take the fall. It was just a question of when and how.

Up Next: The NCAA’s hammer falls on both the football and basketball programs, and finally, closure comes for Virginia Tech.