RICHMOND, JUNE 19 -- Virginia Gov. Gerald L. Baliles repeated his call today for academics to have "unrivaled priority" over athletics at state-supported colleges, but said he would leave it to those institutions to strike a balance between sports and studies.
Baliles, meeting with reporters on the eve of a 12-day trade mission to Europe, repeated the central theme of a speech he delivered last week to graduating seniors at Virginia Tech, urging that school and other state universities to renew their commitment to excellence in education.
Tech has been wracked for a year by a controversy in its athletics department involving alleged recruiting violations, the departure of two athletic directors and a $4 million debt.
In the six days since the unusually tough address, there has been an outpouring of support for Baliles from editorial writers, politicians, students and Tech alumni around the state, although some contended the governor should not have used so public a forum for his pointed remarks.
Today, Baliles stressed that he was not suggesting that "athletics should disappear from the face of the earth," or that he wanted to intercede in internal university affairs to ensure the primacy of academics.
"I don't think it's appropriate for the governor to make that judgment for the institution," Baliles said.
He also said he was not surprised by a reported split among Tech's overseers about the school's future direction. "On any board there will be divisions of opinions," he said.
On other topics, Baliles said he hopes his trip to Britain, Sweden and Denmark will prompt European manufacturers to "rediscover" investment opportunities in Virginia.
"Many might view a European trade mission as routine" because of the well-established trade relationships between countries there and the United States, Baliles said.
"I do not share this view. On this trip, I am taking nothing for granted."
The governor's trade trip, his second such journey in two months, will focus on developing commercial agreements to lure tourists, filmmakers and automotive manufacturers to the state. Baliles will be accompanied by his wife Jeannie, two administration officials and a pair of state troopers for security.
In April, Baliles traveled to Japan and China, at a cost of $32,000, to promote his "Year of Trade" initiative. The mission produced, among other things, a final agreement on the shipping of electrical generators to China through the Port of Newport News, a pact with the Bank of Tokyo on the financing of export-import business and agreements with Japanese firms for the purchases of Virginia soybeans and peanuts.