Challenges Met, Challenges Remaining

It's been an eventful first year on the job for West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, even though he was familiar with many of the issues facing his alma mater when he came on board last summer.

"I think I felt pretty well prepared for everything having been on the Board of Governors for a couple of years," Luck said of his outlook when he took the job in 2010. "I knew about the big picture issues, and understood what what was happening. The big issues are the ones that you want to spend a lot of time on because those are the important ones. What did surprise me, a little, was just the number of issues to deal with. We've accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot more that is on the plate. It's a big business, a $60 million a year operation."

In his first year on the job, Luck has had to deal with several coaching changes, most notably the messy one involving the football program. He also wrapped up an NCAA violations case against WVU with minimal damage, and has implemented a number of notable changes within the athletic department. Beer sales at football games is perhaps the most visible of those, but other actions, such as a review of the operations of the entire department, are also ongoing. It won't be a surprise to see changes in other areas, such as broadcast rights, come about, but for now there's one topic that sits atop all others on the priority list.

"I didn't realize how much time I was going to have to spend with conference issues," he said. "We were in a position where the Big East had to pick up its game. When I was with the NFL and the MLS you had people that were doing the TV deals for you. All of those things were handled by the league. In the Big East, it's the athletic directors that are really driving things."

That short phrase – 'conference issues' – covers a lot of ground. The move to get TCU on board in the league took a great deal of time and attention, as has the ongoing search for additional members. With Villanova's addition to the football side of the league in serious question, the time devoted to membership isn't likely to decrease in the near future. Membership also spills over into another pressing league challenge that is running hot and heavy.

"Our most important issue right now is television money," said Luck of the current work to secure a new broadcast rights deal with one or more television networks. "That's not something we can solve on our own. It's part of the change in the whole industry."

The relationship between the TV contract and membership is a simple one, at least on the surface. The Big East, with Luck as a driving member, wants to have an attractive lineup of teams to present to potential network partners, in order to drive up the money it can demand in return for broadcast rights. The addition of TCU helped in that regard, but the Big East must now carefully evaluate potential additions to determine their value not only in terms of competitive balance, but also in their value to broadcasters. In the end, it's all about getting more revenue for the league, which could certainly be put to good use.

"That additional money would allow us to do a whole bunch of things," said Luck. "There are some schools in the Big East that might need it just to pay their bills, but we can use it to do new things, whether it's a new sport or renovations or whatever. There are many things we can think about using that money for."

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Those issues are just some of the many Luck faces, and which leave him little time to enjoy the real product of his department – the games on the field. As the athletic director of the state's flagship institution, Luck is always in demand wherever he appears, so much so that it's difficult for him to watch a West Virginia game in person. He doesn't complain about that – he understands it's part of the job. However, as a football and sports fan, he does still want to watch games, so he's developed a different methodology for doing so.

"With football games, I will sit down afterward and watch it on tape. You are talking and entertaining during a game, so it's hard to see the whole game," the former quarterback said. "That's one reason I enjoy going out and watching my son's games at Stanford, because I can literally sit there and watch every play. I like football. I like the flow of the game, and I like to think about what the coaches are thinking and doing at different points in the game. It's hard to do that at Mountaineer games, because I am getting pulled in so many different directions."

Luck is also anticipating a great deal of excitement from West Virginia's revamped offense this year, and believes that the changes won't be difficult for the team to master. He speaks from experience, having switched from a veer offense under Frank Cignetti to an I-formation attack under Don Nehlen. When asked how long it took him to make that switch, he came up with a surprising time frame.

"It took me about 18 hours," the Rhodes Scholar finalist said of his adjustment to the new attack. "Seriously. I have said this to a number of people, that the most resilient group of people is the players. This system, I think they picked up on it very quickly. Players know coaches come and go, and they accept it as part of the game I don't think they will miss a beat. In fact, I've gotten some indications from the players that they love the new offense, and that they are very excited."

It's probably no surprise that one of WVU's brainiest players ever could pick up a new offense so quickly, but Luck believes today's players have done it as well. He admits he would have loved to have played as a quarterback in Dana Holgorsen's system.

"Today's era is much more fun for quarterbacks than it was 30 years ago," he noted. "That's just the changing nature of the game. Dana wants the quarterback to hit the last step [in his drop] and deliver the ball, and I think they have adapted to that very quickly."


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