WEST VIRGINIA athletic director Oliver Luck seems to be embracing his job more every day.So much so that on Thursday he went as far as using a mountaineering term to describe his whirlwind schedule."It's like seeing a false peak," he said, referring to a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain - but is not.Luck's schedule is jammed - with or without his son being selected No. 1 in the NFL draft. He was in Parkersburg for a fundraiser on Thursday. But he had just returned from Big 12 meetings in Phoenix. It was the first such get-together for WVU."It went well," Luck said. "What's kind of interesting is there were also those from the Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten there. So there were chances to visit with other ADs."Luck said in regard to the Big 12, ESPN and Fox networks were present to talk about logistics, but "there was no discussion of a longer TV deal or extension."Perhaps of bigger note, however, is Luck's characterization of the Big 12 gathering, which included groupings of the football and men's and women's basketball coaches."There's a very good spirit within the Big 12," Luck said. "Not only is there stability, but a granting of [television] rights for 13 years. That's an eternity in our business."We felt welcome. There's a real good vibe across the board."That should be the case if the granting of rights has been or will be pushed to 13 years. You may recall the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors agreed to a minimum of six years late last year.It's significant because a long-term grant of media rights all but makes it impossible for schools to bolt.On Thursday, Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby was named the Big 12's new commissioner. He will take over on June 15 for Chuck Neinas, who was serving as the conference's interim commissioner. Bowlsby, who was in his sixth full season at Stanford after being hired away from Iowa, is also a friend of Luck, whose son Andrew starred at Stanford.
"I know Bob very well," Luck said. "He's very smart and very well respected across the country."Stanford has always had incredible athletics. It wins the Director's Cup [honoring the top athletic program] almost every year. But what he did with football there is impressive."Of course, having Andrew Luck at quarterback helps. But Oliver Luck points further back.
"Jim Harbaugh was his hire [as football coach]," Luck said of Bowlsby. "That speaks to his judgment. Stanford was 1-11 in 2006 when Bob hired Harbaugh. It was somewhat of a risk. Jim hadn't been a Division I coach. But Bob obviously saw something in him. The rest is history."Stanford, of course, soared with Harbaugh before the coach moved to the San Francisco 49ers.Now Luck is trying to make his mark. He's done so with the hire of Dana Holgorsen as football coach. There's the move to the Big 12. And so far, so good for the Mountaineers.
One question, though, that keeps popping up from the man on the street is this: Where's all the money coming from?You might remember in order to leave the Big East early, WVU had to pay $20 million. Some is the league simply keeping what WVU would have collected via distributions. Some is through the "transition fund" loaned to the school by the WVU Foundation.Still, losing $20 million is a hit. Ditto the $500,000 WVU is paying Florida State in order to ditch the scheduled football game originally set for this coming season.
"There are a lot of changes going on," Luck said. "We have buyouts and other Big 12 costs. We're working extraordinarily hard to figure how to do it in a fiscally responsible manner."We've increased [football] ticket prices and [Mountaineer Athletic Club] donations. We're working on concessions and sponsorships. It is challenging. But we looked at the bigger picture and I think any Board of Trustees, etc., would have made the same decisions."Earlier this week, news popped that WVU's athletic department lost $217,700 on its Orange Bowl trip. Luck, though, was proud of that figure, considering the crazy setup that allows bowls to demand schools sell tickets. In this case, WVU sold 7,763 Orange Bowl tickets and had to pay for the remaining 9,737."We always budget for the worst-case scenario," Luck said. "We thought the Orange Bowl could cost us $1 million."Luck kept using the word "challenging.""We went to the [Big 12] meetings and, for example, talked about scheduling," he said. "We showed that if our teams were scheduled to play this and that school in this certain way, we could save $75,000."The goal, though, is to become a full-fledged member of the Big 12 and hit its pot of television gold."We'll be a 50 percent member [financially] this year," Luck said. "It will be 67 percent, then 85 and then 100. When you get to 85 and 100, that's substantial. We're talking about a payout of $20 million a year compared to [what the Big East paid] $7-8 million."In other words, the summit is worth the climb.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.