It’s not a huge secret that I’m not one of Whit Babcock’s biggest fans.
But today’s decision to extend the Virginia Tech Athletic Director’s contract through 2029 is an absolute no-brainer in my mind. It needed to be done.
That's because these are strange and interesting time in college athletics. With the looming specter of COVID in the background, I don’t think anyone can say for sure what’s going to happen one month from now, let alone 5 years from now. I’m sitting here in my office right now, with two tickets to a football game with North Carolina only 25 days from now.
I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll go. Or if it will even be played.
All because of COVID.
On top of that, the subject of conference realignment has come back from the dead like Lazarus, as Oklahoma and Texas are supposedly leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025 if not sooner. This supposedly will start a string of domino-like moves that could blow up the college football landscape as we know it, with teams changing conferences and maybe even breaking away from the NCAA.
The smart play in both of these is to have an experienced AD at the helm to navigate the proper course. As Ricky LaBlue wrote in this story, Whit hasn’t been perfect, but he’s done a lot of good things. He knows the lay of the land, he has assembled a team around him, and no school wants to be dealing with a brand new person driving the bus when all hell possibly breaks lose in college sports in 2025.
Unlike some of my other friends, I’m not even worried about the current situation with football. Nobody gets 100 percent of their hires correct, so I’m not going to blame Whit for that. Justin Fuente started off on fire, fell far below expectations, and now has to start getting better or he’ll be getting gone to someplace else.
Fuente’s worst season was last year, and in the midst of a pandemic, it wasn’t fair to make a final judgment based on that. If lockdowns and similar policies come back again this year, it won’t be fair either. Babcock’s restraint in not caving to the mob is admirable.
My issues, instead, deal with him not appearing to be very customer-focused. There’s still no reliable Wi-Fi in Lane Stadium. The website to give money is still not very customer friendly, and a big chunk of the donors are old people that are not all that technically proficient in the first place. Marketing, at best, shows little imagination, and that has translated to less than stellar results in fund raising. Whit’s been there long enough that if some of this hasn’t been addressed by now, it’s not going to be.
But everything else isn’t necessarily on Babcock. If we’re going to talk strategic blunders, you have to look at Virginia Tech leadership in the early 2000s. While we were all enjoying the glory days of the football program’s rocket ship rise, nobody paid attention to the fact all the senior leaders – from the University president, to Frank Beamer, to the athletic director – were all the same age, and it wasn’t a young age.
No public company would ever allow that. A plan of succession would have been forced upon that company because you just can’t allow big chunks of your management to all leave at the same time. It creates a hole that takes years to recover from and paralyzes any future moves until all those old-timers move on.
That’s what Virginia Tech did. So a new president and a new athletic director got to inherit a legendary coach of a declining football program, a cratered basketball program and a support team that lost of a big portion of its institutional knowledge when they all left at the same time. Hokie fans have been dealing with the fallout of that ever since.
This is why I think the move today is smart. There are potholes in the highway to the future in the world of sports, and yeah, things could be better with the current staff. But the biggest thing Virginia Tech needs right now is to not repeat the mistakes of the early 2000s and instead tie down a dependable band of leaders to maneuver around those potholes, starting with the athletic director.
Today they did, and I think it’s a very wise decision.
So Whit, maybe now we fix the wi-fi in Lane this season? 😊