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Low-profile Casteen Had Impossible Task

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

June 2, 2003 CHARLOTTESVILLE — When it comes to athletics, few ACC presidents have kept a lower profile than Virginia's John Casteen, who was like a Supreme Court justice with a possible swing vote when it came to ACC expansion.

When the presidents voted to expand from nine to 12 teams, it was Casteen who provided the critical vote while requesting that the ACC include Virginia Tech. (N.C. State chancellor Marye Anne Fox was the other swing vote.) Four days later, when the presidents voted to enter discussions with Miami, Syracuse and Boston College, Casteen offered the only dissenting vote after introducing a motion to consider Virginia Tech, a proposal that fell two votes shy of the necessary seven.

Within hours of the ACC announcement, Casteen issued a passionate 600-word statement in which he spelled out his involvement and explained his support for Virginia Tech, particularly along geographical lines.

“Virginia Tech fits well with the unique alliance of academically distinguished, research-intensive universities that comprise the ACC,” said Casteen, who is in his 13th year as UVa's president. “Virginia Tech is situated in the ACC's heartland and is the only major regional university of its kind thought to be interested in discussions with the ACC.

“My position is not in opposition to any other prospective member. Rather, my position is simply that I believe that Virginia Tech belongs in the mix. I plan to keep advocating for Virginia Tech at each opportunity, because I believe what I have said about its fit within the ACC. And, I expect to last long enough to make the case.”

Most UVa supporters felt Casteen's support for Virginia Tech, particularly in his statement, went far beyond what was necessary. Predictably, enraged Tech fans said Casteen was just being political and should have voted against expansion in the first place. Casteen had come under considerable pressure from Virginia governor Mark Warner, who no doubt had felt considerable pressure from the Hokies.

Several informed ACC sources said Casteen was, in fact, proactive in his support of the Hokies. It is quite possible that Casteen, far removed from the fever and fervor spawned by radio talk shows and internet chat rooms, seriously thinks Tech belongs in the ACC.

It is equally likely that many Virginia fans would never want to help Virginia Tech. The Hokies may not want to hear it, but if the shoe were on the other foot, most wouldn't want to help Virginia. There is a fair-minded group of people who want both schools to succeed, but much louder are the groups on the extremes.

Virginia Tech fans also are unhappy with former Virginia athletic director Terry Holland for saying, “I don't think there's any chance Tech will be included,” but Holland publicly supported Tech's candidacy. He often cited the cases of other states with multiple schools in the same conference — Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Michigan State, North Carolina-N.C. State — and the state university's ability to retain its identity.

Let's say that Casteen, purportedly in favor of expansion, voted “no” in the original vote and undermined the whole process. How much ill will would that have created between Virginia and its fellow ACC members?

Arguably, Virginia's history with those schools — more than 70 years in some cases, dating back to the days of the Southern Conference — was worth as much loyalty as the Cavaliers' proximity to Virginia Tech.

Lacrosse: Almost Two Champions

The men's lacrosse program can only hope it follows a similar path to the UVa men's soccer program, which struggled in big games during its first decade under then-coach Bruce Arena and then dominated the sport in the early 1990s.

A 9-7 victory over top-seeded Johns Hopkins provided UVa with its second men's lacrosse championship in five years. The Cavaliers should be well-positioned for another run next year, when goalie Tillman Johnson will be a senior and the starting attack of Johnny Christmas, Joe Yevoli and Matt Ward still will be underclassmen.

Johnson's performance in the Final Four, when he had 31 saves and allowed only 11 goals, may have established him as the best goalie ever to play for the Cavaliers. On the same day he was named MVP of the Final Four, Johnson learned he had made first-team All-American for the first time.

Virginia conceivably could have won the 2002 NCAA championship, when a turnover in the last minute led to a Syracuse goal that sent their semifinal into overtime. In his 11 seasons as UVa head coach, Dom Starsia has taken the Cavaliers to the championship game four times.

One week earlier, UVa was on the verge of winning the Division I women's lacrosse championship, up 7-6 with less than two minutes remaining, when Cavalier All-American Lauren Aumiller collided with an official and lost the ball. Princeton took over possession, tied the score and won 8-7 in overtime.

The Cavaliers picked up 190 Sears Cup points in lacrosse — 100 for the men and 90 for the women — and should finish in the top 20 of those all-sport rankings, their best showing since the late 1990s. There was potential for another good showing in the women's rowing championship, which the Cavaliers entered with the No. 5 ranking.

Academics Explain Cain Silence

The end of the signing period came and went May 15, with no announcement that the Cavaliers had signed Jason Cain, a 6-9 forward from John Bartram High School in Philadelphia who had committed to UVa in late April.

Virginia wasn't saying a whole lot, an indication that either Cain had not signed or he had signed and UVa was holding back on the announcement. One way or another, it appeared that the university's admissions office was monitoring Cain's academic performance in the spring semester. Unlike most other schools, the Cavaliers often delay the official disclosure of the identity of committed prospects — even after signing day — until he has been approved for enrollment.

At the time of his announcement, Cain said he had scored 940 on the Scholastic Assessment Test but couldn't allow his grades to slip, at the risk of not meeting the NCAA's sliding scale for freshman eligibility. Privately, the UVa staff expressed confidence that all of this year's recruits will qualify, leaving the impression that Cain's admission was only a formality.

Another Strong Start For Groh

Virginia already has football commitments from two of the top five-rated juniors in the state. The latest came from All-Group A running back Cedric Peerman, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, including 317 (and seven touchdowns) in the state championship game, when he scored seven touchdowns for William Campbell High in a 70-0 victory over Appalachia High.

Peerman, who is no relation to UVa running Alvin Pearman and spells his name differently, joins earlier Cavalier commitment Chris Long, a defensive lineman from Charlottesville. Long is the oldest child of NFL Hall of Fame defensive lineman and popular television analyst Howie Long.