West Virginia football: Oliver Luck talks Big 12 transition
I talked to West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck on Thursday about the Mountaineers’ move to the Big 12. For the Friday Oklahoman, I wrote about my belief that Louisville needs to come into the Big 12, primarily because of the stability it would bring as a bridge to the East. You can read that column here.
Here’s how East is West Virginia. Luck called me while driving from Morgantown, W.Va., to the New Jersey Meadowlands, where Luck was headed to accept the historic Lambert Trophy, which annually goes to the best football team in the East.
Anyway, we chatted about the transition for West Virginia to the Big 12. Here is the interview:
Are you worried about being so isolated from the rest of the conference?
Luck: “I’ll say this, No. 1, we are sincerely delighted to be in the Big 12. I’ve answered a lot of questions over the last couple of months from our fan base, ‘do we fit in?’ No. 1, the answer is absolutely yes. The commonality that West Virginia University has culturally with the two Oklahoma schools, the two Kansas schools, Iowa State. Land-grant universities, rural constituencies. The University of Texas, less so. TCU, Baylor, private schools, they’re a little different. But there are no real cultural issues.”
What about geography? It’s a long way from Morgantown to the rest of this conference.
Luck: “I guess I would say this. In the years we’ve been in the Big East, we’ve had South Florida, down there by themselves. Miami, before them. In a perfect world, you do have neighbors that are close. Pittsburgh, when we were playing them. We enjoyed our relationship with Virginia Tech when they were in the Big East. Blacksburg is only about 90 miles from the West Virginia border.”
What are the geographic challenges?
Luck: “The next couple of years, we’ll have our hands full, learning to handle the travel to Ames and Manhattan and Lubbock and Stillwater. I don’t think we’ll miss the close geography. Having said that, ultimately, it’s always nice to have schools in your backyard. Because of some of the relationships we’ve had with some of those schools, our non-conference schedule, we’ll try to keep as local as we can.”
What were some of the problems you saw with Miami and then South Florida being so isolated in the Big East?
Luck: “When Miami was in the Big East, I wasn’t here. I was down in Houston. South Florida, I really didn’t see any significant problems. Once you get on an airplane, doesn’t matter if you fly an hour and half, or 21/2 hours. You’re on a plane. As I talked to Doug Woolard, their AD, their coaches, our coaches, didn’t seem to be many problems. Our kids, quite honestly, liked going down to Florida. We get a lot of Florida recruits. I didn’t really see any issues. I don’t anticipate issues. But obviously, it’s nice to have schools you can jump in the car and drive to.”
Can West Virginia fill its allotment of tickets? Each Big 12 school gets 3,850 tickets for road games. That’s a long way for Mountaineer fans to come four or five times a year.
Luck: “It is a big commitment. Just look at the bowl games. And that’s just one game. That is asking a lot. I don’t think we can expect our full allotment. We’ll find out over the course of the next couple of seasons, what our traveling fan base is like. I know in Houston and Dallas, I think as well as Kansas City, we have fairly substantial alumni groups. Had a guy tell me the other day, ‘I’ve got a cousin in Kansas I haven’t seen in years. This gives me a reason to go out there. In the Big East, the allotment is 5,000. Recent history, most of the Big East schools, us included, haven’t sold our allotment. But 99.9 percent of West Virginia fans haven’t watched a game in Austin or Norman or Lubbock or wherever. The interest level is certainly going to be high.”
How quickly do you think West Virginia can be immersed into the Big 12?
Luck: “I’ll be honest. I lived in Houston for a long time. I have a law degree from the University of Texas. My wife has two degrees from the University of Texas. I understand Texas. By definition, I understand a good bit about the Big 12. As I look at these big state public institutions with big enrollments like Kansas State or Oklahoma State, I was at the Fiesta Bowl naturally (his son is Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck), and talking to Okie State fans, I thought, ‘My gosh, I’m talking to a mirror image of West Virginians. Very proud. We don’t have any pro sports in the state of West Virginia, though I know you now have the NBA. We’re the only school, really. I’ve been out to Lubbock. I know a lot of folks there. It seems, from my vantage point, the typical West Virginia fan, how he or she supports the flagship school, is not much different from the typical Big 12 fan base. UT-Austin has become such a big place. But Lubbock is a lot like Morgantown. I think we’ll merge in pretty quickly.”
It seems as if football offers the least geographic problems?
Luck: “It’s not that big of a challenge. We flew to Louisville. Flew to Connecticut. Flew to Rutgers. Flew to Syracuse. For some of the other sports, there is a challenge. But women’s soccer, if we play up in DePaul, we’ll fly. Will we have increased costs? Yes. Will we have increased time commitments? Yes. But I don’t think it’s that cumbersome. I don’t think it’s going to affect in any significant way our teams’ ability to perform. And certainly we’re not going to use that as any kind of excuse. I’ve had great conversations with our coaches. They’re very excited about facing the challenges. But we’ll never say, tough road game. We played Kansas State in Wichita this year, early January or late December. We charted. Because of weather and I’m not sure what else, I don’t think our kids got into Wichita until 3 in the morning. (Coach Bob) Huggins is kind of a no-nonsense guy. The kids went out and played very well. Double overtime, we beat Kansas State. We just have to expect that we’ll have some trips like that. Particular in the winter months. We’ve had some trips like that in the Big East.”
How does your overall athletic department fit in with the Big 12?
Luck: “I think it aligns fairly well. We have 17 sports. We do need to add one sport, per Big 12 guidelines. A men’s sport. We’ve got a committee. Narrowed it down to one of three sports: men’s golf, men’s tennis, men’s track. Studying that right now. Men’s golf is certainly competitive in the Big 12. The one sport where we clearly need to improve is baseball. We have a baseball program. We’ve had modest success over the year. Big 12 baseball is very good. Starting with, really, all the schools. That’s one of the sports where we’re focused on really trying to raise our bar. It is a challenge, no question about it. There are, however, some success stories in the north. The University of Virginia. Charlottesville is a little bit better weather wise. They’ve done a great job building a new ballpark down there, being successful. Notre Dame’s had success. South Bend doesn’t thaw out until you’re usually in April. But it is a challenge. But baseball’s very traditional in West Virginia. Even last couple of years, we’ve produced a number of major leaguers. The AA player of the year in the Padre system. So we’ve got some pretty good talent. But if you had to pick a sport that’s our challenge, that’s it.”
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