As the athletic director at Virginia Tech from 1988-97, David Braine was instrumental in helping the Hokies join the long sought-after Atlantic Coast Conference.
Who would think, some 25 years later, that the thrill would be gone, not necessarily for the ACC but for the college athletic landscape in general.
“I was shocked when I heard it,” Braine said of the announcement that Southern Cal and UCLA would be leaving the Pac-10 Conference to join the Big Ten.”Who would think that the Big-10 would go all the way to California?
“My feeling is that the face of college football has changed so much. We will never see college football again like we knew it back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
“It’s not going to be that way any more. Kids are getting paid now and coaches are making two and three and five and seven million dollars and it’s all about the money, period.”
So, how did it happen?
“It got out of hand and it only takes one or two schools to change that landscape. You try to keep up with the Joneses. It would be very interesting to know how many schools involved in all of these changes are really making money.
“I don’t know how they’re affording everything that they’re doing. I know the conference payouts are a whole lot more than they used to be. I go back to the time when, heck, I had to swallow hard when we started paying coaches a million dollars a year.
“That’s nothing. The coordinators are making that and more.”
On top of that, players can now make money through the NIL, which refers to an athletes’ ability to profit from use of their name, image or likeness.
“The portal came first,” said Braine, referring to the ease with which players changed schools. “Once the portal happened, kids had the opportunity to go where they wanted to go and without any penalty the first time.
“Now, with the NIL, they’re getting paid — at some schools more than others and it’s not like you and I used to know. It’s professional football in college.”
Is there a way to make it better?
“Not at all,” Braine said. “Maybe for the public, it might be better because what they do on the field might be better than it used to be. Still, these are kids. They still have to go to class. They’re there to get an education.
“There’s more pressure. They’re getting paid, so obviously a lot more is going to be demanded of then. To me, where I feel they suffer the most is the education. Colleges and universities were not built for football. It seems like that’s what it’s all about now.”
Basketball is no different. Braine heard Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young speak Tuesday, when he said he will have eight new players this year.
Young, whose Hokies won the ACC championship this past winter, was quick to establish a bond with Braine, also an athletic director at Georgia Tech from 1996-2007, who lives in Blacksburg.
“It’s so easy, especially in basketball, to build a team overnight,” Braine said. “You don’t even have to recruit. You just go straight to the portal and get those kids.”
Braine, who turned 80 earlier in the month, follows the Tech programs intently.”That was my life for 22 years; he said. “You just don’t walk away. I’m following from afar. I’m just like any other guy out there now. I read the newspaper and listen to talk radio.”
Braine, originally from Grove City, Pa., played football at North Carolina and was an assistant coach at VMI, Richmond, Georgia Tech and UVa.
His first AD’s job was at Marshall from 1985-87 but he was a quick study at Tech.
“I stayed out of everybody’s hair,” he said. “When [Justin] Fuente was here as football coach, I wasn’t allowed to go to practice. So, for five years, I never went to football practice, but now that Brent [Pry] is here, I’ll start going back to practice.
“Mike Young, obviously, is a good friend. We’ve been good friends for a long time. I’ve really enjoyed watching how the program has gone.
” I think [athletic director] Whit Babcock has done a good job of hiring people. This past year probably has to be the best year in the history of Tech athletics.”
The Hokies won the ACC championship in men’s basketball, had standout seasons in softball, baseball, track and field, and wrestling and made numerous NCAA postseason appearances.
“I’m afraid it’s all going to change now,” Braine said. “God only knows how the Virginia Techs and schools like the Wake Forests and N.C. States are going to survive. I really don’t.”
Virginia Tech spent years trying to get into the ACC and, when it happened, it went smoothly in 2004. It was nothing like the current schools and athletes making changes around the clock.
Braine says two of the biggest things to happen to Virginia Tech were its selection to join in the Big East for all sports but football in 1987 and the performance of football star Michael Vick.
“Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it is, Notre Dame, obviously, is the next big stumbling block,” Braine said. “My feeling is, now that they’ve gone to California, what’s going to stop them from going to Florida. And, what’s going to stop them from going to North Carolina?
“Not that it’s going to stop ’em, but you take North Carolina and Miami and Florida State and Clemson into the Big Ten. Those schools are supposedly getting, if what you read is true, something around $100 million per year in TV revenue.”
“A hundred million dollars!”
“I thought [ACC commissioner] John Swofford was a genius when he tied up everybody through 2035, but if you joined the Big Ten and got a $100 million per year, you could buy your way out of any contract.”
Asked how he felt by a startled reporter, Braine seemed worried.
“Well, I am!” Braine said. “It isn’t finished. Whether Notre Dame will do anything or not, there’s money people out there a lot smarter than I am that are going to tell these schools, ‘Hey! If the Big Ten wants you, you’re going to be able to survive it. You’re going to be able to pay the $500 million because you’re going to get $100 million per year.’ “
“The alumni has got to come up with the money for the first five years, but, after that, you’re home free. But the whole deal is, the Big Ten now is on the West Coast. They cover the country now. Who are thy competing against? The SEC.
Do you want to get in their market? You’re going to have to go to get to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina in order to compete with them. I feel sorry for the schools like Virginia Tech and Virginia that have worked so hard to get where they are right now
“Through no fault of their own and nothing they can control, there’s a chance they could be left out in the cold and be a have-not again and they’re right back as a struggling entity. That might not happen and I hope it doesn’t happen.
“I hope people don’t read this and say ‘what the hell do you know,’ and so forth. But there’s so many schools out there. You think of Syracuse and Pitt, Iowa State, schools like that. Good schools academically. Good schools athletically. What are they going to do?”
It’s not the best of times.
“I wouldn’t want to be the commissioner of the ACC,” Braine said. “I don’t know Jim Phillips. Everything I hear about him is great. People say he’s smart and has an ace up his sleeve. I have no idea what the man can do to stop whatever is happening.”
That is, unless the ACC can wrap up Notre Dame for football.
“If they get Notre Dame, they’ve got it made,” Braine said. “Will they ever come to the ACC full-time? Hopefully, that would happen. I don’t know if it can or not. Just as an outsider, I don’t see how that can happen but stranger things have happened.
“That was a shock with UCLA and USC. I would have never bet on that. With that happening, other things could happen, too.”