This past week, West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck put everything you need to know about West Virginia’s move from the Big East to the Big 12 into perspective, and did so as only an attorney could.
He was appearing on a real radio station, 790 The Zone in Atlanta, and being interviewed by someone who was not on his athletic department’s payroll or dependent upon it in some way for their livelihood, talking on a show called Mayhem in the A.M.
The question was raised about the price of $20 million being rather high to leave the Big East to join the Big 12, a fair question indeed, considering the Big 12 was not really WVU’s dream location.
The question was put forth accordingly:
“Well, I guess congratulations are in order, even though it comes with a $20 million price tag?”
“Well, it’s the old adage: Why is divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it.”
While the question of why he had to pay so much to escape the Big East had been put to Luck many times before, I had never heard him sum it up so succinctly and credibly, for this was, indeed, nothing more than a divorce, although hardly a no-fault one.
Anyone who has ever been married understands the feelings in the beginning, the reason why a man will pay out an outrageous amount of money for a diamond engagement ring, why the new couple will spend more than they can afford to consummate the deal with a lavish honeymoon.
He also understands that on the day the divorce papers are filed those feelings have turned to nothing more than memories that belong seemingly to someone else.
Times change; people change; things change; circumstances change.
The truth of the matter is that the $20 million that WVU paid was a deal, probably the best deal they could have gotten to obtain what they were seeking — “the long-term financial security and the long-term stability that every athletic director wants for his or her school” was the way Luck put it.
This was not a ransom payment, maybe not even the alimony Luck made it out to be.
As it is with everything else in sports today, this was a business investment, an investment in the future.
And when you crunch the numbers, they come out pretty good for West Virginia.
First of all, they were going to have to pay $5 million to leave the conference if they had waited the full 27 months the Big East was requiring, so that not only cuts the cost of leaving to $15 million, but it also means they have somewhere to go, for the Big 12 would not have been there for them 27 months into the future.
Second, the Big 12 and some donors kicked in another $5 million, which left WVU with only about $10 million of the bill to pay, far more reasonable, especially since it didn’t come out of their pocket. See, the Big East plans to withhold WVU’s conference earnings from this year’s payout, which will be in the area of $9 million.
Anyone knows you don’t nearly miss money that you never had as badly as you miss money that is in your bank account. It’s what makes paying our taxes so much easier, the money being withheld that you never see.
Consider, though, that the ultimate payout to WVU, after three years of graduated payouts from the Big 12, should come to about $19 million or $20 million a year, and you understand that from a business standpoint, this was a must-do thing.
But when you speak of it being as a divorce, consider the man or woman you married and how he or she has changed over the years. It is the same with the Big East. The conference membership is different, its geography is different and, yes, WVU’s needs are different.
On the radio show Luck was asked about the long road trips. The answer he gave in justifying them, quite frankly, was one I had heard before.
“They will be, but considering the alternative, quite honestly, if we remained where we were, we would’ve been more than likely in a western division. As you guys know, what the Big East has done, adding San Diego State and Boise and Houston and SMU, Memphis. We would be travelling even further. So I think you almost have to almost not compare to what was the case, but what the case was going to be.”
Everyone was under the impression that WVU would not be making regular long trips like Boise State and San Diego State, certainly not to both along with Houston and SMU in the same season.
If the money was better, the geography no worse, the competition better and the financial picture more stable and more lucrative, the only reason to stay together would have been love.
And love, as they say in the movies, means never having to say you’re sorry.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.