Oliver Luck Doesn’t Take a Raincheck

It’s not often that I find myself fortunate to not be at a WVU game (but instead in the middle of nowhere, NC) but today was that rare opportunity.  In an effort to simply kill time during an extended rain delay, Tony Caridi fell into an interview with athletic director Oliver Luck that was as notable for it’s length as it’s candor. Luck was all over the map, hitting on everything from the current state of WVU sports to conference realignment to a public jab at a conference partner. Here are the highlights (I apologize for any innacuracies.  I was literally driving through North Carolina, listening to Tony with one ear and “Thomas the Tank Engine” in the other – family beach trip.  Am trying to be as accurate as I can. Hopefully MSN makes a podcast available soon.) Luck on the current state of flux in WVU athletics: (paraphrasing) “I remember when people were against the new field and wanted to renovate the old field and stay downtown.” A clear shot at the old school camp who aren’t too happy about changes Luck has made, from coaching to beer sales.  And also a very good defense for forward looking change in general – no way does the current incarnation of WVU Football exist without the new stadium construction in 1980. Luck on conference realignment: This was the biggie:  Luck was amazingly open here.  Said in the near future the Big 12 could “dissolve.” I was shocked to hear him say this.  Maybe not a bold statement for a guy in a bar, but far from the platitudes we’ve become accustomed to from people in Luck’s position.  He went into further detail, saying he felt Texas was “looking east” with regard to future and Oklahoma was “looking west.” Notable given his knowledge of the region through his past in Houston. With regard to WVU, Luck pointed out that geography keeps open the possibility of 4 leagues. Big East (obviously), ACC, SEC & Big Ten.  Nothing really groundbreaking here.  What stuck out to me was the candor with which he discussed WVU as an SEC team.  Admitted they would have to “build depth” and then went further in noting Kentucky and Mississippi State as teams who have had similar challenges. When the discussion turned to what WVU brings to the table, Luck seemed to take a issue with those who feel WVU doesn’t possess an adequate population to be a real asset from the standpoint of TV markets. Then he astutely pointed out that West Virginia’s market (including the Pittsburgh area and the outskirts of the DC metropolitan area) actually provided more access to TVs than recently snatched-up Nebraska. When the discussion turned to what WVU brings to the table, Luck seemed to take a issue with those who feel WVU doesn’t possess an adequate population to be a real asset from the standpoint of TV markets.  First he quite gleefully threw major media marketer Rutgers under the bus, pointing out that their athletic department lost money (I seem to remember a number in the high millions and originally wrote $17mi. here, but can’t verify the actual amount and don’t trust my memory as that number seems awful high) even AFTER their share of TV money. (it’s worth nothing here that skepticism as to Rutger’s ability to generate money is nothing new.)  Then he astutely pointed out that West Virginia’s market (including the Pittsburgh area and the outskirts of the DC metropolitan area) actually provided more access to TVs than recently snatched-up Nebraska. Luck on bowl games: Luck was at his most candid talking about bowl games.  Here I admit my memory is a little foggy as to the particulars of who said what between Luck vs. Caridi, there was a lot of back and forth.  The gist was a dubious attitude towards the financial benefit bowls provide schools, and at one point Luck pointed out that schools would make much more by simply hosting another home game.  Caridi added a nice zinger saying something along the lines of “heck, play the game and then you can afford to take them to Disney World yourself.”  At this point Luck made the statement he felt there were currently “too many bowls.”  I was surprised at an athletic director at a school that has made so many recent bowl trips to both major and second tier games would be so blunt in criticism of the current system. All in all a candid albeit unexpected prolonged sit down with a sharp, sharp guy.  He had clearly given a lot of thought to realignment and WVU’s conference position for the future.  He’s realistic about challenges membership in the SEC could bring, but (as evidenced by referencing the old stadium debate) unafraid to push the boundaries of what the program is capable of. Additionally he holds a critical view of the current bowl system insomuch as he’s challenging established assumptions and not simply bowing to the status quo.  One wonders how quicky the gears in that big brain get turning when he looks at potential revenues that could be generated by a playoff. Earlier today Mark Ennis, a manager of BigEastCoastBias.com (follow him on Twitter @Mengus22) jokingly referred to Luck in a tweet as “Shadow Big East Commissioner.” it was one of those “funny because it’s true” jokes. Funny because the silence of on-paper commish John Marinatto amid realignment turmoil has been deafening.  True because Luck’s vocal leadership of the conference’s most important athletic department makes him in many ways a de facto head. After hearing his comments today, I’m once again confident that WVU is in good hands as college football seems on the threshold of major change.  The Big East should be so lucky.

11 Responses to “Oliver Luck Doesn’t Take a Raincheck”

  1. Thanks for transcribing the interview, but I disagree with your characterization of WVU as “the conference’s most important athletic department” I would say that it’s probably #3 behind Syracuse and UConn. The Big East existed and did just fine before WVU.

  2. First let me say that was NOT a transcription. And I hope MSN finds some way to release a transcript or podcast. Most if not all was from memory. I was driving at the time and only took some notes once I realized how much Luck was talking. And my statement re: the position of WVU athletic department in conference is based on their role as a football power, of which they are the best. As football is driving the nationwide realignment ship, that puts WVU in a strong spot. Thanks for reading & commenting!

  3. Fact, you represent the problem with the Big East. Syracuse and UConn are great institutions and drive the basketball cart in the conference, but everyone else except the bb schools in the Big East know that football is driving the bus and has been driving the conference realignment status as well. That is why WVU and Pitt are more important members as all this shakes out.
    Thank you Brandon for transcribing this interview. I was at the stadium yesterday and WVU has that SEC feel as our athletic director, of whom I am a great fan, drives the changes to the game day experience in Motown.

  4. The Big East was only a basketball conference before West Virginia stepped into it. It was West Virginia’s stability and support of the Big East conference is what kept it together when Boston College, Va Tech & The U left for the ACC. If Don Nehlen & WVU leadership had not been steadfast in their support of the Big East football conference… frankly, I don’t see it as being in existence today. Now I will give you that it may not be the most influential program when it comes to basketball.

    But it in the future, the super or mega conferences are going to have to both football & basketball… so without WVU’s influence in football… there is not a Big East.

    Maybe something you can help me out with is… why isn’t the Big Ten talking much about adding WVU to the mix? To me it makes more sense than any other conference. I live in the Columbus area… and to me bringing in Pitt & WVU would make so much more sense than any of the other options. WVU travels as good as most anybody else in the Big Ten… more TV coverage like the mentioned Nebraska. So why? By bringing in WVU & Pitt… they bring in a rivalry… then Penn State then can renew rivalries with WVU & Pitt. Makes way too much sense to me.

    What do you say?

  5. Its my understanding that the concerns have been how WVU would fit into the conference academically. All Big 10 member institutions (save 1 – Nebraska) are a part of the Association of American Universities, a collection of the top 62 research universities in the country. Nebraska actually was a member in the past and recently dropped off the list. FYI Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse & Missouri are all members.

  6. I truly believe that WVU will be in the mix as a member of the SEC be it 14th or 16th (which 16 teams really isn’t that far fetched as of late). I just don’t see VT (or any ACC member) leaving the Academic side of the ACC to leave for the Athletic side of the SEC. Having the majority of my family in St Louis and KC I just don’t see Mizzu bringing in all those TVs as other areas can. St Louis and KC are pro towns and I have never once heard any of my uncles talk about Mizzu – not once. Remember when the Tigers and WVU were going to play for the national championship a few ago? It wasn’t even on my families radar! Cards are king then Chiefs, Rams, Royals, Blues and finally Beer.

  7. Re the Association of American Universities, I believe Syracuse is no longer a member. I seem to remember they were done in by not having a medical school attached to the university. (The med. school in Syracuse is a New York State institution, while SU is a private school.)

  8. Giod stuff as always Brandon. I was a little saucey during the interview while waiting out the rain, but I remember telling my Dad and brother in law that the interview was surprisingly candid. Luck basically said that Rutgers is bleeding money and does not know how long the statee of New Jersey will continue to subsidize them. Also, you are dead on that WVU is the strongest AD in the BE. Most revenue overall, and easily the strongest fan support. That is inarguable. I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s looking like the trip to the Bayou may not be a one timer.

  9. Thanks for that, Briggs. Nobody else I’ve talked to heard it and I’m glad it struck someone else as particularly candid. The Rutgers comments are the ones I am most unsure about (as evidenced by the fact that I edited my initial comments significantly). I’m unable to remember if he cited Rutgers’ inability to turn a profit within the context of “see, major markets aren’t so great” or “the bowl system sucks because this can still happen to a program.” pret big difference, but regardless, it was surprisng to hear an AD speak so bluntly about a fellow conference member. Hopefully MSN makes a podcast available.

  10. [...] To Mountaineer Fans who have been following the situation closely, though, this is nothing new.  As I wrote Sunday night, a Mountaineer move to the SEC is something to which WVU athletic director Oliver Luck has clearly [...]

  11. [...] learned last month that Oliver Luck has no problems speaking plainly and making bold statements.  In a wide ranging interview during the lengthy rain delay of the WVU / MU game, Luck took shots [...]

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