If you don’t grasp WVU’s athletic position within the Big 12, you probably missed a release sent out back on June 22.
It said Mountaineer Director of Athletics Shane Lyons will preside as chair of the league’s Big 12 Athletic Director’s Council.
That, you may remember, came on the heels of news WVU President E. Gordon Gee would serve as chairman of the Big 12’s Board of Directors.
West Virginia has gone from league geographic outlier to captain of the Big 12 agendas.
“It’s a good thing for us,” Lyons said of his appointment on Monday. “It’s on a rotation basis, so this is when West Virginia came up to chair [the athletic directors]. With myself there and Gordon as the chair of the president’s council, it gives us the opportunity to sit, collaborate and develop and run the agendas for the coming years. It should be a great.”
Of course turning around the U.S.S. Big 12 won’t be easy. The bow has taken hits from the media on issues ranging from the recent expansion search to football recruiting and NFL draft failures all the way to the Baylor disgraces.
Lyons, however, feels comfortable in his new position.
“We’re in the fold of the league now and, after last year, with all the turmoil stirred up in the media, things have settled down,” he said. “I feel as strong as ever the athletic directors — as well as the presidents — are as unified as we’ve ever been.”
Many in the media, led by ESPN personality Paul Finebaum, have questioned that. Finebaum has said Oklahoma “desperately” wants to get out of the league and even called it “the Titanic — and you can see the iceberg in sight.”
“I think the league is in a good spot,” Lyons countered. “I think starting a [football] championship is the next big thing coming down the pike. Overall, though, we’re back to normal as we try to get stronger and stronger as a league.”
He was asked if he’s huddled yet with Gee on how to reverse the league’s perception.
“We haven’t formally in these roles,” Lyons said. “We’ve had those discussions in the past though. To make the league strong we have to look at football and make sure we have a team in the College Football Playoff. If you look outside of that, we’ve performed well in both men’s and women’s basketball. We have a number of national championship challengers or winners in the Olympic sports. But the perception of the league is gauged primarily on the performance in football.
“As a league, we need to focus on having a team in the College Football Playoff. That’s what will quell the doubters saying the league isn’t strong.”
Has he decided on a top agenda item?
“I really haven’t,” Lyons said. “I’ll sit down with the [Big 12] conference office later on this summer. I’ll collaborate with them on what we want to get done and what we need to get done as a league. Overall, though, I really think we are back to the normal business as a league. If you win, that takes care of a lot.”
Lyons paused before restarting.
“Over the last six years I’ve had the opportunity to be in three different leagues, from the ACC to the SEC to, now, the Big 12,” he said. “I think this [Big 12] group is as strong as there is in any other league. Now we just have to make sure we have a team in the College Football Playoff that can get the media off our back a little bit about our strength. I personally can’t control that, but it’s something we’ll talk about as a league when we set the agenda.”
The same question was put to Lyons that was put to Gee when he became chair: Will the conference ask each school to reassess its recruiting procedures?
“Those are things that are brought up within the league, but there are ebbs and flows to those things,” he responded. “You can go back and see larger [draft] numbers, even here at West Virginia. We had those drafted in the first round and better numbers overall in the past. This past year was a down year. Unfortunately it was a down year overall. I don’t think a one-year snapshot should be taken into account.
“It’s something we shouldn’t lose focus on, but, at the same time, I don’t think we should see it as a red flag with alarms going off. We need to look at 3- to 5-year averages.”
Lyons’ responsibility as council chairman began July 1.