BLACKSBURG, Va.(WRIC)– This fall marks 15 years for Virginia Tech as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. While it may be hard to imagine the league without the Hokies, the marriage wouldn’t have happened if not for the efforts of then-governor and now current U.S. Senator Mark Warner.
It was the day Hokie fans had been waiting for, for a long time!
“What a wonderful day it was when we got into the ACC” says former Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer.
Early on, it looked like Virginia Tech had little chance of being part of the ACC expansion for the 2004 season. Based on television market size, Syracuse, Boston College and Miami were on the shortlist. Virginia Tech, in rural Blacksburg, didn’t make the cut.
“It was a wild ride,” former Governor Mark Warner recalled.
Warner, who is now a U.S. Senator, was the Governor of Virginia at the time.
“I heard from friends in Southwest Virginia saying ‘Hey, Virginia Tech aught to make a run at joining the ACC,” says Warner. “And I thought about what it would do for the Commonwealth, for economic development. This makes some real sense.”
Warner tackled the issue head-on. He started working the phones just like it was an election. He was calling governors, school presidents and athletic directors across the Mid-Atlantic.
“We had some pushback,” Warner explained. “Initially, from the North Carolina schools who wanted the other TV markets of the other additions.
“Candidly we had more than a little pushback from some of the fans and some of the alumni at UVA.”
The ACC was required to have a three-fourths vote of approval for schools to join. Warner pulled a Hail Mary, using his considerable influence to help get Virginia Tech to the table.
“I did have to remind the UVA board members that they serve at the pleasure of the governor,” Warner said.
“Without UVA, the president there, I don’t think we would have made it into the ACC,” Beamer added.
In the end, thanks to UVA’s support, the ACC invited Virginia Tech and Miami to join for the 2004 season. The Tech football program has never looked back, winning the conference four times. Three of those titles are from championship football games.
“Now, the way things have gotten these days, getting into bowls, getting on TV, you need to be a member of a conference,” Beamer said.
“Thank God for the Big East, but I always felt like the ACC was where we belonged.”
Joining the Atlantic Coast Conference opened up a whole new world for Tech football when it came to recruiting top athletes in the region.
“I’ve always said, if you can recruit within four hours of the school, that’s what you want to do,” Beamer explained. “Parents will come see them play. So you’ve got a better shot of getting the kid to play.”
As for Warner, he says helping Tech get into the ACC is a proud part of his legacy.
“I was brought out at halftime at Lane Stadium in front of 75,000 odd fans, at least for a brief period of time,” Warner said. “I had about a 98 percent approval rating — at least in Lane Stadium.”
Since Tech joined the ACC, Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville and Notre Dame have joined the ACC. (Notre Dame is a member except for Hockey and Football.)