Let’s take a walk back in time to the early 1980s.
These were not the best of times for Virginia Tech’s football program. The Hokies were not thought of as a big-time program, despite their stated goal of trying to be one with hopes of one day joining a big-time conference like the ACC. After the 4-year era of Jimmy Sharpe had a promising start but then came crashing down with a resounding thud, North Carolina Coach Bill Dooley was hired as the head coach AND the athletic director to try to address this.
This resulted in the same guy coaching the team and scheduling future opponents, and it became problematic. In 1982 the team had just gone 7-4, the third straight winning season for Dooley, but he was getting frustrated his team wasn’t getting more credit for that than they were.
Seems the world of college football wasn’t impressed with the schedule the Hokies played. Yeah, they were 7-4, but included on the slate was Richmond, William & Mary, Appalachian State, Vanderbilt and VMI. Also on the card was a 2-9 Virginia team and a 3-8 Wake Forest club. On top of that, they got beat 45-0 by Vandy and also lost to Wake.
You are who you play, some suggested.
Dooley would respond to criticisms of the schedule by pointing out the school was an independent and big-time schools weren’t going to play home-and-home series with someone like Virginia Tech. That might have been true, but future slates sure didn’t show any burning desire to play other independents like Penn State back then.
The next year the team was more successful, but the perception of the Hokie program did not change. The team still had VMI, Richmond, William & Mary and Vanderbilt on the card, and they added a 4-7 Tulane team to replace Appalachian State. They went 9-2, winning 9 of their last 10 with their only loss to No. 4 West Virginia in Morgantown, and finished the season with a stout 48-0 road win against Virginia.
Pretty impressive, eh?
Despite that, they didn’t get a bowl bid. How many schools in the history of modern day bowl games have gone 9-2, and after stubbing their toe in the opener, didn’t lose to anyone outside the top 4 teams in the country, and beat their state rival 48-0 in the finale, yet did NOT get a bowl bid?
I’m only aware of one.
The bowls didn’t want the Hokies because of the cupcake scheduling. They did not think Virginia Tech was a big-time program, so they did not want them in their bowl games. At the time, that stung everyone, and was the beginning of the realization maybe the school didn’t want the coach and AD to be the same person. If the Hokies wanted to be seen as a big time program, they began to see, they had to play better teams.
That realization ended with Dooley not wanting to give up the two roles. After three more seasons he was forced out after a 9-2-1 season, a Peach Bowl win over NC State, wins over Clemson, West Virginia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and a No. 20 ranking in the final polls.
While we’re at it, who forces a coach out after a season like that?
These memories have come back to me after seeing today the current sports administration taking a Dooleyish approach to future schedules. The Hokies were scheduled to play James Madison in 2025, which is sort of a no-win proposition for them in the first place. JMU is good, but they are not a big-time major, so if Virginia Tech won, few people would give them a lot of credit, and if they lost, they would draw quite a bit of criticism from fans and alumni. The series would have the same dynamics as exist with the series with Old Dominion, which I also think is a no-win proposition.
That JMU game is now being moved to 2026, and who are they filling it with? Wofford, an even lesser respected quantity in the college football world. The 2025 nonconference schedule now starts out with a good game against Shane Beamer and South Carolina in Atlanta, but then features home games with Vanderbilt, Old Dominion and Wofford, all on consecutive Saturdays in the heat of September.
Season ticket holders are going to love that.
But wait, as the ShamWow guy would say, there’s more.
BY moving the JMU game to 2026, the nonconference schedule now has VMI, Old Dominion, Maryland and James Madison. The game with Maryland I understand, and you’d think an ACC team of Virginia Tech’s stature should be able to schedule three more like it with teams in the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12. ODU, JMU and VMI should not be on the Hokie schedule.
I don’t understand it, and frankly, it’s embarrassing.
You don’t have to play Alabama and Ohio State in your non-conference schedule and get your brains blown out. But at a time where some are being critical of the Hokie Athletic Director for not paying enough attention to the importance of the game experience, not addressing key things like WiFi and LED lighting, this is tone deaf. Because you know what else makes for a great game experience?
Cheering on your team against a quality opponent.