ASK CFN - The Virginia Tech Situation
Posted Apr 20, 2007

After what happened this week, how does Virginia Tech's football program go on? How should the media cover the Hokies now? Do mid-majors get the short end of the stick in the preseason rankings? Was Auburn an elite team last year? These and much more in the latest Ask CFN.

Pete Fiutak

Fire over your questions to me at I might not be able to answer them all, but I promise they're all read. Any e-mails sent to this address may be published or edited unless requested otherwise. (Please put ASK CFN in the subject line, and PLEASE keep the questions short ... it makes my life easier.)

Past ASK CFNs ...     
Creating a MWest-WAC super-league
Mid-majors who should be in the bigs
The potential new superpower
The 5 best coaching jobs
March Madness for football?
Potential Bowl Shockers
Tim Brewster?
Fox's BCS broadcasts
- Is Brady really better than Russell?
Hot & Cold Bowl Programs
- How ineffective was Reggie Ball?
- A 2007 Top 10 Mock Draft
Can Michigan win a national title?
- BCS possibilities for several teams
- West Virginia schedule, BCS rules
- Toughest coaching jobs
- Hidden Heisman 5

- Is Temple worst ever?
- Oklahoma-Oregon fiasco
- Has Bob Stoops lost it?
- Is Colorado done?

I have two questions regarding the Virginia Tech tragedy:
1. Had this happened during the football year, how do you think the athletic department would have responded? Perhaps cancel the game on the next Saturday out of respect for the victims?
2. How do you think Virginia Tech football team (the whole athletics, for that matter) should respond? Will there be extra scrutiny for player conduct, fan conduct, etc?
-Dan from Boise, Idaho

Obviously sports are the last thing on anyone’s mind in Blacksburg, but to try to turn it to football for a moment, how will Virginia Tech cancelling spring ball affect the season? – GK

Does Virginia Tech now become America’s Team going into the season? I’ll have my VT hat on every Saturday, and I’m a Maryland fan. – GM

A: Originally I wasn’t going to touch the Virginia Tech situation since it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with sports (despite what a certain Boo-Ya Network might want you to believe). Just because the world mostly knows about the school as the place Michael Vick spent some time, that doesn’t mean what happened has anything to do with football.

With that said, and acknowledging the absurdity to discuss Virginia Tech sports after a horrific week like this one with so much grief and sadness, this was the main topic of most of the e-mails that came in. Almost everyone realized the football team and the tragedy don’t go hand in hand, but this is a football column and Virginia Tech will have one of the top ten teams in the country to start the season.

First of all, I’m begging, pleading, and desperately asking in vain for everyone in the media, and I’m pointing this at the Eastern Seaboarders, to not overuse what happened to lay on the schmaltz like they did last year covering the New Orleans Saints. Please, don’t see this as your opportunity to overwork a storyline in an attempt to tug on heartstrings just to provoke a reaction. Of course, everyone needs to cover the obvious storylines for the first few weeks of the season. Then give it a rest.

I’m obviously not saying anyone should forget the victims. I’m saying the media covering the sports side of Virginia Tech shouldn’t milk the tragedy for its own gain while pounding it into our heads at every opportunity. We all know what happened and it’ll always be on our minds. During the broadcasts, let the football games be the football games and the tragedy be the tragedy. Give Hokie fans a chance to spend a few hours thinking about something else, and don’t make fans of the other team feel guilty.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about how everyone should root for North Texas to beat Memphis in the 2003 New Orleans Bowl because it would be a big boost for the Sun Belt. I got an e-mail from a girl who followed the Memphis football team religiously (her friend’s brother was on the team) and its hunt for the first bowl appearance since 1971. She said the season was the happiest, most fun thing going on in her life that fall. She was going through chemotherapy and was told her aggressive form of cancer would be almost impossible to beat. Remember, there are always reasons to root for both sides in any game.

It’s O.K. to want East Carolina to win on September 1st because you like Pirate football better. It’s O.K. to root against the Virginia Tech football team if you’re a fan of an ACC team trying to win the championship. It’ll also be O.K. for Hokie fans to let go and cheer their lungs out and have fun once the season starts up. Keep the sports side of things and the school side separate.

There’s no good way to handle the aftermath in a situation like this. Yeah, the school probably would’ve postponed a game or two had this happened during the year out of respect to everyone involved (like what happened after 9/11). There’s another school of thought that says you play the game and let the community come together and unite in a cathartic setting (like the NFL did after JFK was assassinated).

Of course the sports programs will do many things to honor the victims. As far as scrutiny and conduct, what one nutjob did on a sad day doesn’t mean all of Virginia Tech needs to be on double secret probation or any sort of high alert. It’ll be business as usual for the way the team, students and fans act around the sports events. Give everyone time to heal a little bit.

On the football field, and once again I’m doing this with the full understanding of how crazy it is to deal with Virginia Tech football right now, this is a top five team we’re talking about. Just like a national-title level LSU team had to deal with the football side of things after the Katrina disaster, down the road, Virginia Tech will play football again.

How will this affect the season? It remains to be seen. If Frank Beamer thought cancelling spring practice was the right thing to do, then that’s it. A few extra practices shouldn’t make that much of a difference and it would’ve seemed a bit insensitive to simply go on as if nothing happened. That would’ve suggested that football is above the university, not a part of it. The team will just pick up where it left off in a few months once this has had time to settle down and people have had time to grieve and mourn. (Of course, this will only happen if those raging asshats at NBC stop glorifying Cho Seung Hui in the name of higher ratings by giving him his say with that videotape every chance they get. Let’s set the wayback machine to last Wednesday evening and let me help Brian Williams and the boys with this one. “We received the videotape and the manifesto with Cho Seung Hui's words and ramblings, but out of respect for the victims, their families, and the entire Virginia Tech community, along with a moral responsibility to not give anyone else any ideas of committing a similar tragedy with the desire to be heard, we will do the decent thing and not show the video or photos sent to us.”)

In the salary cap era of NFL football is a high draft pick a bigger opportunity to strengthen your team or to waste a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere?  Where do you think the best place to be is on the draft board if you wanted to get the most talent for your dollar? – Alex, Las Vegas

A: Either really early or really late in the first round. To me, the middle is a no man’s land because you’re getting guy that could probably go several picks later saving you millions of dollars. A first round pick needs to be a starter and a star for your team for several years. A top ten pick has to be a difference making Pro Bowl performer. At the end of the first round, the money you’ll have to crank out is far, far less and you’re still going to be able to fill a need. That’s part of the reason Chicago didn’t jump all over Washington’s offer of the number six pick for Lance Briggs. If it were up to me, I’d spend my money keeping my top guys happy. Free agency is as hit or miss as the draft. I want known commodities, and if I like my guys, I don’t want to lose them to other teams (as long as I’m not doling out huge dough for an aging star).

I'm a nit-picker.  That said, your statement that Auburn wasn't an elite team last year bugs me a bit.  Of course you just said this in passing when discussing Florida, but, being an annoying Auburn fan, I still feel compelled to say something.  Auburn went 11-2, finished in the top 10, and had the 2 best wins in the nation (#1 Florida and #3 LSU).  Lumping Auburn into the same category as good-but-not-elite Tennessee isn't fair. – Matt

A: Guilty as charged. While that wasn’t the greatest of Auburn teams last year, and it underachieved partly because it couldn’t get its groove back after shutting it down midseason against a string of bad teams, 11 wins is 11 wins. You’re absolutely right. If you win double-digit games, especially if you’re an SEC team, you had a great season no matter what.

For how many more years are we going to hear that such-and-such team could be
"this year's Auburn?"
– DJ

A:  Until someone else is the jilted odd-team out in a true three-way BCS slugfest. Until then, getting “Auburned” will refer to the national title worthy team that didn’t get its chance and was the number three team in the mix. In 2003, it would’ve been called getting “USCed.”

Which question do you hate more: 1. Why are you biased against my alma mater or 2. Why doesn’t my alma mater get any respect?  - Erich

A: The bias thing annoys me more only because if means someone isn’t a regular reader of the site and they don’t realize/accept that I love/hate every program equally. My rule when it comes to readers searching for respect: if you have to ask for it, you don’t have it, you probably won’t get it, and if your team really is that good, you don’t need it.

I know schools would have in interest in this, but what do you think about teams, instead of a spring scrimmage with each other, they actually schedule a real scrimmage with other teams?  The game of course would mean nothing, but it would give teams a chance to schedule top competition and simulate a real game environment without worrying about rankings and play some very untraditional matchups.  Imagine Ohio State scrimmaging with LSU or USC and Florida.  Again, I understand why coaches and schools may not be interested, but would you as a college football fan want to see that, even if the players don't play with full intensity? – DC

A: Like there aren’t enough problems now with the preseason rankings. Let’s say USC plays Texas Tech in a scrimmage and the Red Raiders absolutely throttle the Trojans. I mean beat them like a drum even though Pete Carroll is sitting several of his key players and wants to give time to some of his reserves. All of a sudden, a few of the pinhead voters out there would vote Texas Tech ahead of USC, or would at least put some stock in what happened in the scrimmage. However, outside of the potential injury factor, I think more coaches might like this idea than you’d expect just to get their young guys some game action.

I was hoping to get your thoughts on pre-season rankings.  I think they are a huge disadvantage, for example, to one of these mid-major teams that everyone seems to love.  If the BCS rankings don't come out until week 8 (or whenever), how can pollsters who only watch the Rose Bowl judge talent before ever seeing it on the field? – Shawn

A: As much as I rail on the polls, I have no problem with them to start the season. The problem comes during the year when pollsters don’t go by what’s actually happening because they don’t actually see every team they’re voting for. The system actually helps the mid-majors when it comes to ranking teams. Take Boise State for instance. On talent, it hasn’t been one of the 25 best teams in America. Sure, on the field, it’s proven to be worthy of the top 25 as the season goes on, but then the record changes things. Would Boise State have been unbeaten and in the top ten mix if it had played in a BCS conference? Not a chance. Would several BCS teams have been unbeaten had they played Boise State’s schedule? Absolutely. If a mid-major has a great record, it’ll move up regardless of talent or schedule. As far as waiting until mid-season, it doesn’t matter. If the pollsters actually do their job, they’ll adjust the rankings each week even if it means wild fluctuations. Of course, they don’t do that.

Is it harder for a joke team to become "legitimately mediocre"…or a legitimately mediocre team to become elite?   Dan McCarney led Iowa State out of the Big XII basement to go to 5 bowls in 6 years, and twice came within a final game, overtime heart breaker for a chance to play for the Big XII Championship.   What will it take for Gene Chizik to lead the Cyclones from mediocrity to BCS-caliber? – SA

A: Far, far, far tougher to go from mediocre to elite. A team with the right chemistry, a few good players here and there, and the right system can be a winner every year, like Navy. Once in a while a Wake Forest or a Northwestern can rise up and shock a league when everything comes together. But to be consistently great, you need several great years of recruiting and on field success to build the program. A good example is Wisconsin. It was consistently above average after going to the 1994 Rose Bowl (it was a better than “legitimately mediocre”) and made the jump up. West Virginia and Louisville are also good examples. In general, the goal for the downtrodden is to go to a bowl every year and hope everything comes together in one magical season here and there.

Yo numb nuts, what is the possibility of Boise State and Utep being invited to join the Mountain West Conference? Also, if you were a hot dog and starving to death, would you eat yourself? - numb nose

A: Boise State yes, UTEP, not sure. Fresno State has a better shot. Remember, conferences look to expand based on fan base, stadiums, facilities, and other business factors. Boise State doesn’t really fit, but it wins enough to potentially get the nod. A hot dog, no, but if I was a king crab and I spent all day in a hot tub, one of my legs would be missing later that day.

Do you think that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper or pond scum? – Brent

A: At the conference media gatherings each year, the official soft drink of the league always has its product for free all over the place. The Big Ten always has Pepsi at the ready during its media days, and the Big 12 always has Dr. Pepper products. I find Dr. Pepper to be underrated, and I even enjoy Diet Dr. Pepper, but at the Big 12 media days this year there were several variations instead of the regular standbys. There were cans and cans of a Berries and Cream Diet Dr. Pepper and some other offshoot that I can’t remember. Always taking anything that’s free, I horked several cans and took to my hotel room upstairs for later. They were so bad that I was grouchy for days after I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth. Somewhere, someone actually tested this product, and some focus group liked the cough medicine aftertaste.