UNTIL GOV. Baliles took to the microphones to deliver a most unusual commencement address, the alums and graduating students at Virginia Tech were showing few signs of solemnity. But in no time the governor had most of the crowd of 27,000 giving him their rapt attention and applauding at frequent intervals. The governor's message was anything but your run-of-the-mill tribute to the institution or to the glories of learning to cope in the complex world ahead. Instead, he delivered a blistering attack on overseers of the university for its year-long athletics scandal -- as well as a warning to other state-supported institutions not to put sports ahead of academics. As Post staff writer R. H. Melton reported, it was the sternest speech of the governor's 17-month-old administration. Other governors and university overseers might well borrow from Mr. Baliles' text.

"We have glimpsed an ominous future, a future few of us ever thought possible," the governor said. "It is a future of misspent financial resources, of million-dollar coaching contracts and lavish expense accounts. It is a future that invites unethical conduct and humiliating publicity. It is a future this institution never dreamt of. It is a future that Virginia Tech does not need."

Gov. Baliles did note after his address that Virginia Tech holds "tremendous potential" for improving its already considerable reputation as an engineering center, adding that he did not want to see it "clouded by a lot of bad publicity about athletics." And his address was not critical of Tech President William E. Lavery, who, he said, "has been good for this institution."

But the governor scolded the university's overseers for falling prey to "a new set of ambitions. . . that, if allowed to grow unchecked, could easily compromise Virginia Tech's excellence and injure its dreams. These are ambitions not measured by breakthroughs in research, but by breaking records in gate receipts. These are ambitions not measured by the achievements of scholars, but by glory on the playing field. They are not the ambitions of Virginians who care about education and care about Virginia Tech."

They are not the ambitions of bill-paying parents or taxpayers either -- and representatives of both groups, as well as the president of the class of 1987, James P. O'Brien Jr., rightly gave the address high marks for tone and substance.