WVU Needs Luck, Not Just Luck

Surely even the most skeptical Mountaineer fans couldn't find any reason to second guess the hiring of Oliver Luck as the new director of athletics at West Virginia. But do any of the myriad qualifications he brings to the table actually matter in what is a turbulent time in college athletics?

It's an impressive, and lengthy, curriculum vitae that the former WVU quarterback brings along with him as he prepares to return to his alma mater. The following is just a sample of the experiences Luck can claim on his résumé:

  • Vice President of Business Development for the National Football League

  • President and CEO of NFL Europe

  • CEO of Harris County-Houston Sports Authority (where he helped lead the vision for, development of and management of over $1 billion in new facilities in the Houston area)

  • President and General Manager of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer (where he worked hand-in-hand with city and county government to procure funding for a new, $60 million soccer-only stadium)

  • Two-year member of the Board of Governors at West Virginia University

    University President James P. Clements (though I get the feeling from the few encounters I have had with him that he would rather just have you call him "Jim") truly could not have hired anyone more qualified than Luck.

    But will any of that actually help in what potentially could be a turbulent few months for the Mountaineer athletic department, with the first two tremors of the earthquake that promises to shake up all of college sports hitting on Thursday and Friday?

    It's not just happenstance that Clements was apparently moving far more quickly behind the scenes than almost anyone realized to fill the spot that Ed Pastilong will officially vacate after June 30.

    The savvy President, who is just about to complete his first full year on the job in Morgantown, knew, like all of us, that conference realignment was on the horizon.

    He knew this was no time to have his school's athletic department running without a strong leader in place; that while Pastilong is infinitely qualified and experienced in his own right to handle the coming storm, it wouldn't look good to have an emeritus director of athletics in charge during what could be the most pivotal time in the history of the department.

    So he got his man.

    To do so, he apparently had to do a fair amount of arm-twisting (on multiple occasions during an introductory conference call on Thursday morning, Luck made reference to Clements' skill as a recruiter).

    He also will pay Luck a salary of $390,000 per year -- almost double what Pastilong makes currently ($225,000).

    And, perhaps most importantly, Clements gave Luck a bit of flexibility as he prepares to take the job, setting up a six-month transition period.

    The new AD will bounce back and forth between Houston (where Luck said he "feel(s) an obligation" to help oversee the initial stages of construction of the new Dynamo stadium), Morgantown, and perhaps Palo Alto, to watch son Andrew take snaps for Stanford.

    So what, beyond an impressive résumé, does West Virginia University get as it faces conference realignment? What does it get for the extra money, the steadfast efforts of Clements and allowing Luck to, as he put it, "wear multiple hats" from now until the calendar flips to 2011?


    That's not meant to be a knock on Luck, who almost certainly will be a solid leader for the Mountaineer athletic department in the years to come.

    But there is not much he, nor Pastilong, nor anyone else can do to shape the outcome of this situation in a way that is favorable for WVU.

    If there is one thing we all should have learned from the process thus far, it is that conferences aren't hoping to expand on the basis of merit. If they were, Rutgers wouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as the Big Ten.

    It's all about TV deals and the beaucoup bucks conferences hope to attract with the right mix of schools. And not even the mighty Oliver Luck can change the demographics or the geography of the Mountain State.

    Those are the factors that will determine the athletic department's conference fate. Nothing more (though the school's less-than-ideal academic reputation does not help). Nothing less.

    Luck even indirectly hinted at such, when posed with a question about how extensive his contacts are in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

    The reporter asking the query, Mitch Vingle of the Charleston Gazette, implied that a hefty Rolodex (pretend with me for a moment that someone still uses those things) could help put the Mountaineers in a better position when the tremors that have started in Big 12 country move eastward.

    Luck respectfully dissented.

    "I'm not sure that having contacts is necessarily all that important," he said. "I think what's required is seeing the big picture, the end-game, to strategize in terms of how our institution can maintain an appropriate affiliation for the traditions and for the value that we've created over the years within the athletic program and within the entire University community."

    But seeing the end-game isn't going to help much either. Many of us have seen the storm on the horizon for some time. And in a position like Luck's, you plan for the worst -- in this case, the death of the Big East Conference.

    So what, beyond a bit of behind-the-scenes politicking, can anyone do to try to secure a place for West Virginia in the Southeastern Conference or the Atlantic Coast Conference?


    As the dominos continue to fall in this whole mess, those conferences with enough strength and clout to do so will make their moves.

    Perhaps the Big Ten stops at 12 teams, the SEC stands pat as well and the Big East survives. Perhaps chaos ensues as the Big Ten grabs up Rutgers, kills off the Big East, expands to 16 and drives the SEC and ACC to make similar power-grabs.

    Luck (the mystical entity) will have more to do with West Virginia's fate than Luck (the new athletic director) in either scenario.

    That is because the simple reality is this: all that matters to conference commissioners is money. And WVU just doesn't deliver it in the same way some other schools do.

    He will likely be the recipient of much praise should the Mountaineers fall softly into the waiting arms of either the SEC or ACC, or if the Big East survives. He will likely be the source of much scorn if WVU somehow slips through the cracks and ends up in Conference USA or some other non-BCS league.

    He won't deserve all the credit he will get if the former scenario comes to pass, and he won't deserve all the disdain he will get if it is instead the latter.

    But Luck should be used to that by now. After all, he was a quarterback.

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