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Luck left deep imprint, now what?

By Staff | Dec 26, 2014

Two things about former WVU athletic director Oliver Luck: he is ambitious and his decisions were analytical and made only after consulting all the facts and information he could find.

Luck was a quarterback at WVU. When he stopped playing professional football, he sought managerial/administrative positions in the sports world. He was in a decision-making, upper echelon position in professional soccer in Houston before deciding to return to Morgantown as West Virginia’s athletic director.

He was about 50 when he made carefully thought out decisions to find WVU a new conference affiliation away from the flimsy and collapsing Big East. He wanted a conference with high visibility, one that generated generous revenue for its football and men’s basketball teams.

Luck’s strike while the iron was hot approach beat the demise of the Big East, which retreated into remnants of what it had been and slinked into the American Athletic Conference.

He landed the Mountaineers into the far-off Big 12 Conference. Awaiting his Bill Stewart-coached football team and his Bob Huggins-coached basketball team were Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Baylor and Texas Christian and three others. No Big 12 school was any nearer Morgantown than Ames, Iowa, the home of Iowa State and 880 miles due west of Monongalia County.

The Big 12 promised a revenue stream about four times the level of what the Big East had provided. It has given Luck’s alma mater the money needed to upgrade a number of athletic facilities and even build a new baseball stadium that leaves Hawley Field back in the Dark Ages.

After firing Stewart and placing Dana Holgorsen at the head of his football program, Luck moved on ahead in his quest to send West Virginia into the same new-era zone as anybody in the Big 12. He fired baseball coach Greg Van Zant and wrestling coach Craig Turnbull. Randy Mazey became the forward-thinking baseball coach and set out to at least get into the same competitive world as the top-flight programs in the new conference.

Luck put up for bid the school’s “third tier” media rights and received more money for them than had been in place before. Even though John Raese is still involved in court battles with the university over the legitimacy of those media rights, the money keeps streaming into the WVU coffers.

Last year, Luck tossed his hat into the ring to become the new athletic director at Texas. Articles were written and circulated that he was the favorite to succeed Deloss Dodds in Austin. Luck did not get the position.

Now the NCAA has created a high-level administrative position that has never before existed. Titled the “executive vice president of regulatory affairs for the NCAA”, the post now belongs to Luck. The job description for the second-most powerful position in the NCAA adminstrative chain says Luck is charged with “bringing the national office’s regulatory functions — academic and membership affairs, the Eligibility Center and enforcement — under one umbrella.”

Luck leaves WVU at a time when E.Gordon Gee has just recently returned as the school’s president. Keli Cunningham, a native of Petersburg, has been at the second-most important post in the athletic hierarchy for just over a year. She has an undergraduate and master’s degree from WVU.

Gee has said he will move swiftly — but dutifully — to find the next athletic director.

Now what happens at WVU?

The “new broom” athletic director will certainly make an imprint. That person will at least alter a few of the paths Luck took in his four years on the job. And that person will review each of the sports — both men’s and women’s — the university offers.

The newly-in-charge didn’t hire any of the coaches. The new person will have no allegiance to anybody.

Holgorsen has records of 10-3, 7-6, 4-8 and 7-5 (pending the outcome of the Liberty Bowl). Huggins has recent seasons where his Mountaineers couldn’t reach the NCAA tournament, one of those campaigns was a losing season.

The so-called non-revenue sports will all be evaluated. And changes could come in some of those sports.

Luck could quickly surface as the head of the NCAA. Or he could move elsewhere if he sees his course there isn’t going to lead him to the throne.

He was turned down at Texas. The throne room in Indianapolis, the site of NCAA headquarters, might also never see him occupying that ermine-decorated seat.

But the situation at WVU will be changed. Luck’s business will have the stamp of some other adminstrator before too long.