By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
As they introduced newly hired West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck on Monday afternoon at Touchdown Terrace overlooking Mountaineer Field, a highlight film from his career as Coach Don Nehlen’s first quarterback played on the numerous television screens throughout the building.
There was one play in particular when Luck escaped a savage pass rush, something he had to do quite often that first year, and scrambled toward the sideline, shaking off one tackler, then another before finally, as another defender grabbed at his legs, he uncorked a long gainer of a pass.
In many ways it was symbolic of the situation he now finds himself in as he takes over from Ed Pastilong, scrambling through a blitz of conference realignment and recently published reports that the school is facing potential problems with the NCAA over its football program.
Luck isn’t in for any of the physical pain he suffered in those early days at quarterback, days where he said Dr. Doug Bowers “used to stitch me up after the games, without Novocaine”, but nonetheless he steps forward at a time when West Virginia athletics is facing third and long with another blitz coming.
In the long run, the conference realignment situation is bigger than even an NCAA investigation that started at Michigan with former Coach Rich Rodriguez and that led the NCAA investigators to check his dealings at WVU.
A Huntington newspaper recently said that WVU had turned itself into the NCAA for having too many coaches on the field, naming Director of High School Relations Pat Kirkland and Director of Player Development Dale Wolfley.
The paper did not cite any sources, nor did it call anyone in the WVU athletic department to get their side of the story.
However, there were no denials of the truth of the story coming from WVU, which said rules prevented them from making any comment on it.
Luck did say that as a member of the WVU Board of Governors, a position he resigned to take the athletic directorship, he was aware that a situation did exist.
“I’m aware of the issue. I don’t have any of the details. I will say that it has been my experience that WVU has always taken compliance extraordinarily seriously. I’m sure as I learn the details of this, we’ll continue to have a very vigilant compliance program.”
More important at the moment, however, is the state of flux that college football is in at the moment with both the Big Ten and the Pac-10 having already begun expansion and with the possibility being of a complete makeover of the structure of college football, from conference affiliations to championship games.
While saying he would prefer the Mountaineers to remain a member of the Big East, Luck seems to be flexible on the point and willing to move in whatever direction is best for the school rather than what is best for the conference.
“If anything the college sports industry is undergoing change. There are tensions within the sports industry that give rise to a lot of this realignment talk,” Luck said. “It’s important for us – and we can’t do things within a vacuum – to have a handle on where we think things may wind up and what we think our best response would be.”
Luck emphasized that he felt that at present the best option was with the Big East Conference as it is.
“My sense is our best spot is where things are right now, with the Big East. Everyone would agree playing basketball in the Big East allowed Bobby to have his team make that great run in the tournament. I think the football team is strong. I think since ’03, the last year Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College were in the Big East, we have emerged as the football power in the big east. That helps our university.”
There are those at the University of Cincinnati who would argue that point, but the truth is that WVU certainly ranks at or near the top.
The problem right now is that no one knows where college football will wind up, and that includes Luck.
“I’m not sure I know where all this is going to end up. I don’t believe the Big Ten is through looking. They will still cast an eye, I’m not sure in which direction, perhaps south or east or west. Because of their business model, which is based on subscription revenue from cable, which is different than the business models the other conferences have, they will look around.
“I think all we can do is talk about it, is be proactive, get as much information as we can and have as many contingencies in place in case there is a shakeup.”
However it plays out, the new athletic director believes that WVU can improve their position when all is said and done.
“I think our university has a tremendous opportunity. In times of uncertainty there are often times of opportunity,” he said.
“It’s safe to say we’d love to see the status quo continue but, like every other university, we need to be smart and strategic and figure out should X, Y and Z happen, what our alternatives are.”
Luck knows the blitz is on and as it was on the football field, he’s trying to improvise a way to turn it to his and WVU’s favor.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.