Coach Beamer, players pledge new attitude at Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) _ The road to prominence has not been easy for Virginia Tech. For every achievement and football victory, there has been a headline screaming about another arrest, another legal problem.
For each of the team’s 20 wins in 24 games over the last two seasons, there has been a player charged with a crime, several of them felonies.
Coach Frank Beamer and team leaders say the image will change; school president Paul Torgersen has said it must.
``Last year was a real bad year, not only for myself but really for the whole team,″ said senior fullback Marcus Parker, who was suspended for the first four games of last season after being arrested on shoplifting charges.
``As a team, I think we’ve taken it a little bit more upon ourselves,″ he said. ``I’ve seen older guys helping out, trying to keep guys out of trouble. We’ve had a few team-only meetings this summer and talked about a few things. So we know how important it is to stay out of trouble.″
The team’s troubles began attracting national attention in 1995, when linebacker Tony Morrison and wide receiver James Crawford were suspended before the Sugar Bowl.
Already notorious as the players accused of raping a fellow student, Morrison was charged with trashing a bar during a drunken rampage and Crawford was charged with felony hit-and-run and fraud for reclaiming his car from an impound lot without paying fines.
Morrison later was cleared of the charges and has since left Virginia Tech. Crawford was convicted of disorderly conduct and fined $400.
Then last year, before the Hokies played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, Crawford and roommate Brian Edmonds were charged with raping and attempting to sodomize a woman who had attended a party at their off-campus apartment.
The trial was scheduled to begin Monday, but Edmonds and Crawford pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of attempted aggravated sexual battery Friday and were given suspended sentences. They also were fined $500, to be paid to programs in the Blacksburg area that help victims of sexual assault.
The trial would have returned the Hokies’ problems to the spotlight. Twenty Virginia Tech players have been charged with crimes in the last two years. Many are no longer with the team.
In an effort to deal with all the problems, Torgersen and then-athletic director Dave Braine put together a set of standards for athletes last February. They include tougher sanctions, more drug testing, expanded player counseling and more attention to character assessment in recruiting.
Players charged with a felony will be suspended immediately until their cases are heard. Those convicted of felonies will be kicked off the team. The circumstances of lesser convictions will determine the discipline.
Administering the guidelines _ and handing out punishments _ is now the responsibility of interim athletic director Sharon McCloskey, who took over in June when Braine resigned to take the same job at Georgia Tech.
``It was an embarrassment for the department and for the university,″ she said of all the arrests. ``It’s something we don’t want to happen again ... and I think this action plan is a step in that direction. I think it’s a pretty strong plan and I think the important thing is that these athletes know it up front.″
Virginia Tech players say the school’s message has come through.
``I guess we all have an ultimatum, some standards to meet,″ said Loren Johnson, one of the team’s most outspoken players and the student-athlete appointed by Torgersen to the nine-member athletic director search team.
``We don’t have any baby sitters on the team,″ the junior cornerback said. ``Everybody’s just has to go out, take care of their priorities, take care of their responsibilities and do what’s right.″
Beamer, who was criticized for being soft on discipline, said the school’s expectations were reiterated to returning players and spelled out clearly for incoming freshmen in a series of meetings before the season.
``It is a privilege and not a right to play college athletics,″ McCloskey said. ``So we can set the rules and say, `This is the way it’s going to be and if you don’t want to play by our rules, then you don’t need to be here.‴
End Adv for weekend editions, Sept. 6-7