Accelerated Timetable

Shortly after formally introducing Oliver Luck as his school's new director of athletics, WVU President James P. Clements admitted he wanted someone in place as conference realignment moves were being made at a breakneck pace. That was the chief reason Clements brought a national search for Ed Pastilong's replacement to such a quick conclusion.

He said he knew he had found his man in Luck, enough to go as far as postponing interviews that had already been scheduled with other candidates.

"We had other interviews scheduled, but I sat back the night of the interview and said ‘He's so good, and so right for us. It doesn't make sense to bring in other people in if they really don't have a shot,'" Clements said. "My view was that nobody could trump Oliver."

But the President's quick move from attempting to twist Luck's arm (as the new athletic director was not sure the job was a good fit for him even a week before he was announced to be accepting it) to signing a five-year, $390,000-per-year contract and being introduced at a formal "welcome ceremony" on Monday was due in no small part to the urgency of the situation West Virginia appeared to be facing.

When the University first announced that Clements had his man in a press release put out last Thursday, that release came just a few hours before the formal announcement that the first domino had fallen in conference realignment. Colorado had accepted an invitation to the Pac-10.

That would be followed the next day by Nebraska's move to the Big Ten, and all signs pointed to five other Big 12 schools moving out west along with CU to create a 16-team "super-conference" (and essentially kill off their former league) as soon as this week.

That was expected to kick off a wild period of chess moves across the country. Conjecture was that the Southeastern Conference would look at adding perhaps a couple of schools from the ACC (Georgia Tech? Miami? Florida State?), which might push that league to again rummage through the Big East for possible replacements.

In other words, what had begun out west was not far from reaching WVU's home back east. And that only made it more important that Clements had "his guy" in place to handle whatever problems or possibilities presented themselves.

"It's good to have that person at the beginning of the process than the end," Clements said. "It was important to have him in here with decision-making authority by July 1 [when Pastilong officially switches over to emeritus status]. The timing couldn't be better."

It was to be a time of unprecedented uncertainty for WVU's athletics programs. When expansion talks had first begun in college athletics, it was widely believed it would be the Big Ten driving the changes -- quite possibly by inviting some combination of current Big East teams, but not the Mountaineers -- and that those changes would kill the Big East.

There was the chance that could mean a move to another BCS league like the ACC or SEC. But if neither of those conferences came calling, there was that other, doomsday scenario where a football program that won a pair of BCS bowls in the last decade would find itself in Conference USA or some other league without an automatic bid.

Luck was put in place quickly and given the unenviable task of trying to navigate the athletic department through those turbulent waters.

"I will guarantee you that the University administration, and now with me on board, that we are talking with a lot of folks to make sure we have a potential opportunity should certain contingencies take place," Luck said Monday.

But the situation quickly calmed when the decision of Texas and other Big 12 South teams to stay put in a 10-member Big 12 was announced Tuesday. That brought an end to imminent large-scale conference realignment in major intercollegiate athletics.

It was interesting, nevertheless, to see the Longhorns' counterparts at WVU begin what likely would have been a critical and lengthy public relations effort to show that its athletic programs were worthy of a spot in any league in the country.

At Luck's introduction, Clements reeled off a list of statistics about how widely-viewed Mountaineers football games had been on the ESPN family of networks. He cited the program's lofty rankings in terms of licensed merchandise sold. He talked about attendance at home games and bowl games.

The message was clear: the small population of the state of West Virginia belies the fact that WVU has a large, passionate fan base spread across the nation that brings value to whatever league has it.

"I've been trying to get the word out," he said. "People don't know that we have the most watched Thursday and Friday night football games on ESPN, so I'm trying to sell that," Clements said.

When asked who he had been "selling that" to, Clements was coy, only saying he had discussed things with several people in several places.

Reading between the lines, West Virginia likely had already been reaching out to potential suiters in case the Big East fell. That, in a process that involved so much guesswork and conjecture until official announcements of important moves were made, was about all anyone, at any school, could do to be "proactive".

While it is widely expected that conferences will avoid moving to the kind of behemoths that would end the Big East as a football league (at least for now), the chaos of last week ultimately drove Clements to make the quickest hire possible for his new athletics director.

Make no mistake: the University's President, who is just about to complete his first year on the job in Morgantown, will do all he can to ensure his school ends up in the best spot possible should the landscape begin to change again.

And in a process that was (and will always be) driven by the desire for even larger pieces of the college football revenue pie, WVU is trying to sell itself as a program as that can help make the pie itself larger.

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