Mitch Vingle: Oliver’s travels ... and issues

West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck is a man seemingly always on the move.

Last week he was in Irving, Texas, participating in the Big 12 meetings at the Four Seasons Resort and Club.

Over the weekend, he was in Washington, taking part in a youth concussion summit called by President Obama.

Then, on Thursday, Luck was in southern West Virginia, stopping both in Charleston for the annual WVU Classic and then in Boone County for a speaking engagement.

It’s a busy time for the AD. It’s a contentious time for him. (See ongoing lawsuit of West Virginia Radio Corp.) But it also must be a fascinating time for him.

Revert to his stop of last week. Most of the headlines from the Big 12 meetings centered on the league’s announcement that it would divvy up $220 million to its schools from the 2013-14 academic year.

More interesting, though, were the steps taken toward autonomy for the five power conferences, which also include the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC.

“It was a meeting of presidents and ADs,” Luck said. “Governance was a big issue. The question really is, if you want autonomy then what will you do with it? For example, on the issue of stipends, how will that work? Will there be health care after our student-athletes graduate? It’s pretty clear there will be autonomy, but we began to deal with what that means.”

A vote is to be taken in August on whether the full NCAA body will grant that to the power conferences. It’s the cleanest solution. It probably will pass. If not, though, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has issued a warning.

“If it doesn’t pass, the next move would be to go to a Division IV,” Slive said at the end of his league’s meetings. “It’s not something we want to do.”

The quote certainly didn’t sit well with Central Florida coach George O’Leary, whose Knights are in the American Athletic Conference.

“They sound like the South during the Civil War,” O’Leary told the Orlando Sentinel. “If they don’t get their way, they’re going to secede and start their own country. ... I think college football is in real trouble.”

“The discussion of being in a completely different group with our own governing body is, I think, pretty radical,” Luck said. “I think most of us want to stay under the NCAA umbrella. I do think, though, there will be autonomy.”

Whether college football is “in real trouble” or not is a debate for another day. What is obvious, though, is this: Athletics are changing.

“Because of the [Ed] O’Bannon [lawsuit versus the NCAA] we may have to allow athletes to profit from their likenesses,” Luck said. “You could have a Geno Smith making money from a football card.”

That’s exactly what could happen. Different models have been discussed over compensating athletes. Funds could be channeled to performer-rights companies and disbursed to athletes. An open market could be unleashed in which schools offer contracts to athletes.

But what seems the most likely is a move to an Olympic model in which college athletes aren’t paid, but can make money on the side via autograph signings, commercials, endorsements and the like.

Switching gears, let’s take a look at Luck’s trip to D.C. Not only was the NCAA represented at the summit, but all of the nation’s professional leagues as well as those from youth organizations like Pop Warner. President Obama announced a $30 million joint research effort on concussions to be carried out by the NCAA and the Defense Department. (Many soldiers, especially in training, are likewise experiencing the syndrome.)

Luck said our culture that challenges kids to play through injuries has to change.

“I’d advise parents to be aware of concussions,” Luck said. “It’s real. A headache could be a concussion.”

On Thursday, though, the athletic director was hitting Berry Hills for the Classic. And if you don’t think even that event is changing, well, you haven’t seen its full name: the WVU Classic presented by MedExpress. The Mountaineer Athletic Club fundraising function included a Thursday fashion show and “Classic Cocktails,” i.e. a golf pairings party. Today a round-robin tennis tournament will be held as well as the maypole activity: the golf tournament.

“It’s always a nice event,” Luck said.

And these are more than interesting times for the AD.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, or follow him at

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