Legions shrugged when Virginia Tech joined the ACC 16 years ago this week. Only state politics had maneuvered the Hokies into the conference, and their competitive prospects appeared dim.
The football program had lost more Big East games in its last three years of membership than in the previous seven combined. Men’s basketball had completed four Big East seasons 17-47 in league play.
Little wonder, then, that ACC media picked newcomer Tech to finish sixth among 11 teams in football and 10th in basketball. The Hokies’ 2004-05 debut was far more accomplished than expected, as have been the ensuing years.
Indeed, of the six schools to accept full ACC membership in the last 20 years, none has contributed more than Virginia Tech.
Last week’s news that ACC commissioner John Swofford is retiring next June after 24 years on the job sparked memories of the Hokies’ convoluted entry into the league. But the aim here, rather than to relitigate that contentious expansion, is to remind folks of how good Tech and the ACC have been for one another.
Start with that 2004 football season.
The Hokies won the outright ACC championship with a victory at Miami in the regular-season finale.
Their only setbacks were to eventual national champion Southern California, North Carolina State by a point — Brandon Pace missed a 43-yard field goal as time expired — and undefeated Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
Frank Beamer was ACC Coach of the Year, and Tech quarterback Bryan Randall was conference Player of the Year. Seth Greenberg’s basketball team also defied expectations, sharing fourth place with Georgia Tech and earning Greenberg league Coach of the Year.
Virginia Tech and Miami entered the league together — the Hurricanes were the most-coveted —followed by Boston College a year later. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville have since joined as full members.
None matches the Hokies’ impact.
Yes, the Eagles have subsequently won three men’s ice hockey national championships, while the Orange have reached a men’s basketball Final Four and claimed one NCAA title each in field hockey and men’s cross country. Still, Tech prevails, national championship void notwithstanding.
The Hokies have won 28 ACC team championships, more than double Miami (11) and Boston College (1) combined. Syracuse and Pitt joined the conference in 2013 and account for 11 and three league titles, respectively. Louisville has won four championships in six years.
In case you’re wondering, and UVA faithful absolutely are, Virginia and Florida State lead the ACC in post-expansion team conference championships with 71 and 64, respectively. North Carolina (48) and Duke (39) are next, with Virginia Tech’s leading more established ACC members N.C. State (24), Clemson (23), Georgia Tech (22) and Wake Forest (12).
Notre Dame, a partial ACC member since 2013, has won 19 league titles, five each in men’s and women’s fencing, plus national championships in men’s soccer, women’s basketball and co-ed fencing (two).
But with due respect to the epee and foil crowd, all sports are not created equal. Football and men’s basketball are paramount, and there Virginia Tech has acquitted itself well.
Though none since 2010, the Hokies boast four ACC football championships.
No other newcomer to the league in the last two decades has even one.
Tech football has won six division titles, most recently in 2016. Boston College has earned two, Miami and Pitt one each.
The Hokies’ 10 The Associated Press top-25 finishes lap Miami’s five, BC’s two, Louisville’s two and Syracuse’s one. Moreover, from 2004-10, they accounted for four of the ACC’s five top-10 finishes.
No one labels Virginia Tech a basketball elite, but four NCAA tournament bids and eight winning ACC seasons since joining the conference are credible. Miami has five NCAA appearances and six winning ACC records, BC three and four.
During the last 20 years, the Southeastern Conference added Missouri and Texas A&M. The Big Ten welcomed Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. Utah and Colorado joined the Pacific 12, West Virginia and Texas Christian the Big 12.
Among those nine, only Utah’s and West Virginia’s football and men’s basketball programs have thrived in their new homes like the Hokies have in theirs.
Lest we forget the academic component: Since the ACC launched its Scholar Athletes of the Year program in 2007, recognizing one for each sport, 21 Hokies have been honored. They include football receiver Danny Coale, softball All-American Angela Tincher and Olympic hurdling bronze medalist Kristi Castlin.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us daily, college athletics is a business, and the ACC’s impact on Virginia Tech’s finances has been XXXL.
When the Hokies exited the Big East, their share of conference revenue, $5.1 million, accounted for 13% of their $38.9 million in total revenue. In 2017-18, the most recent year for which comparable data is available, Tech’s cut of ACC funds, $29.5 million, accounted for 30% of total revenue ($98.4 million).
That money has fueled an upgrade of the Hokies’ entire portfolio, witness their performance in the Directors’ Cup all-sports standings. Prior to ACC membership, Tech’s average Cup finish was 91st. Since, it’s 41st, ahead of Miami (54th) and Boston College (68th).
“There is something to a broad-based athletic program,” Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock said Tuesday on the ACC Network, “and the ACC has really helped elevate Virginia Tech’s game.”