In replacing Luck, Lyons returns to home state
Shane Lyons, a native of Parkersburg and a learned man with two degrees from WVU, was introduced last Saturday at the Iowa State vs. West Virginia basketball game as the new athletic director replacing Oliver Luck.
Lyons is currently an assistant athletic director at Alabama. On Saturday, he said he could be on the job in Morgantown as early as Monday, February 2. And he didn’t predict any “new broom sweeps clean” changes to the athletic department when he begins his tenure.
“I will be educating myself for the first two or three months”, he said about his learning curve at a university whose athletic budget is dwarfed by both Texas and Oklahoma in the same Big 12 Conference.
At Alabama, Lyons was a part of a school with an athletic budget whose funds sweep into Tuscaloosa on the wings of the school’s prideful football team. The spectre of Alabama football is all prevailing to the followers of the school’s fortunes. Football, like so many schools in the Southland, is where the money comes from to help defray the costs of the so-called “minor sports” whose income is mostly limited.
But Alabama still cares about its other sports. It has seen national champion men’s and women’s golf teams and stellar men’s and women’s outdoor track teams. Unlike fellow Southeastern Conference schools Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Missouri the Crimson Tide do not get much monetary feedback from the men’s basketball team.
West Virginia usually has a men’s basketball team that can average between 9,000 and 10,000 fans per game in its 44-year-old Coliseum. The revenue stream brought by the basketball team is important to Mountaineer sports such as gymnastics, rifle, swimming, soccer and wrestling.
Hired by back-on-the-job school president E. Gordon Gee, Lyons made it a point to tell people he was very interested in being a man who wanted contact and wanted input from those state-wide fans whose emotions can be whipped to a frenzied froth concerning the university’s teams . . . but don’t make large monetary contributions to the school.
In other words, Lyons told of his belief that the “common man” is important to the school. And important to him.
Being in a conference with the diversity of Mountains of Money Texas and Off in the Hinterlands Iowa State and Texas Tech makes West Virginia’s job of being on-the-field successful more than challenging.
Lyons told of the current climate concerning the confines and restraints of the NCAA rules and regulations. After his comments about the budget and its size as compared with Alabama and Texas, Lyons spoke briefly of the hot spotlight coming into focus on players’ rights, the stipends coming to both players and their families and graduation rates.
He alluded to the NCAA’s enforcement policies and always being aware of any new mandates and how they are to be executed by the member schools.
Lyons comes in behind Luck, also a graduate of WVU. Luck is enormously ambitious and he put his deep brand on the athletic department. He did much to improve facilities and even put decrepid Hawley Field, windswept home of the baseball Mountaineers, to rest and was the driving force behind a baseball facilty now being finished across the river near Star City.
Luck made changes in the coaches of some of the “minor sports” and he hired Dana Holgorsen to be his football coach.
His efforts to find additional revenue sources other than those traditional inputs brought beer to Mountaineer Field football games and a change in media rights.
Luck made himself a candidate for the Texas athletic director’s position. And he wasn’t hired.
But he landed a position at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis . . . where his son is prospering as the quarterback of the Colts of the NFL.
Lyons has the same constraints found at WVU by Luck and any other administrator. The money is not coming in on a conveyor belt. The state’s population is tiny compared with what is found by the state of Texas schools in the conference. The state’s millionaires are not counted like oil derricks all over the state of Texas.
If Lyons can make an immediate — and then lasting — connection with the everyday people of West Virginia, his tenure will be successful for that reason alone.
West Virginia football may never set the world on fire. West Virginia basketball may also lack the final lethal portion of talent to ever return to the NCAA’s Final Four.
But people want athletic teams that give off an unheard sound that still carries through the hills, whispering “We care about everybody in the state; care about what you think and where you put your emotional allegiance.”