WVU football: Luck, Mountaineers ready for season to begin
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A popular question from Hank Williams Jr. would be appropriate and seriously appreciated by Oliver Luck about now.
Are you ready for some football?
Luck, the West Virginia athletic director, has spent much of his first year on the job seemingly putting out fires. He's started a few, too, with aggressive personnel moves and leading the push for beer sales at Mountaineer Field.
But suffice it to say that after tales involving a coach-in-waiting situation that seemed iffy at best from the start, a coach being booted from a casino, and well-chronicled rancor within a coaching staff and a forced resignation, the AD and his football program are ready to move on to the 2011 season.
Luck's administration deserves much credit for not only digging deep into football violations under two coaches - Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart - but for taking significant enough punishment and sanctions upon itself that the NCAA didn't feel it needed to go the extra mile in an infractions case that wrapped up Friday, in less than 15 months.
It's interesting to consider that while Stewart's demise wasn't related to the NCAA infractions, the three-year boss of the 'Eers always made it a point to try and separate himself from Rodriguez's style and change the tenor in the football program.
However, the one big thing Stewart needed to change from Rodriguez - staff personnel usage and direction that violated NCAA rules - he didn't reshape.
I also have little doubt that it aided WVU's cause with the NCAA in that both coaches responsible for violations over five years are no longer with the program.
The NCAA finds it much less messy in these solutions when those who break rules or those who are clueless about rules they should know after decades in college athletics - "failure to monitor" - are out of the picture.
Now, the pressure is on new Coach Dana Holgorsen. It's not just a pressure to win - remember, multiple 9-4s weren't good enough from the forced-out Stewart - but also a pressure to do things right, personally and professionally.
Holgorsen's late-night antics have been a subject of curiosity and speculation - real or imagined - for too long. Now, the focus needs to change to his team. And after the closure on the NCAA infractions case for WVU, that college athletics governing body will be seriously watching the Mountaineers, too.
It took 15 pages for the NCAA to issue a report following the summary disposition process on WVU's five major violations. Some might say those 15 pages, considering the penalties, are much ado about little.
However, early in the report, it's mentioned that this was the school's sixth major infractions case (five of those since 1982). Only 11 Division I programs have had more major infractions cases (Arizona State, SMU, Auburn, Cal, Florida State, Memphis, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Wichita State and Wisconsin). Only one other current Big East program, Cincinnati, has as many as five.
Most importantly and crucial to Luck and Co., the report asserts that WVU "is a repeat violator as defined by Bylaw 18.104.22.168."
NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124.1 states that "an institution shall be considered a 'repeat' violator" if the Committee on Infractions finds that a major violation has occurred within five years of the starting date of a major penalty.
WVU fits that profile, because of a 2007 trip to the NCAA woodshed because of a mess in the men's soccer program.
Now, if West Virginia has NCAA infractions issues in any program before July 8, 2016 ... well, sanctions associated with Bylaw 126.96.36.199 are so severe that they are often referred to as the "death penalty." (See SMU.)
The NCAA doesn't shut down programs these days, but we're talking significant loss of scholarships, revenue and postseason play. WVU doesn't even want to think about that ... and that's why Luck has to remain as "hands on" as he has been in his first 13 months in his alma mater's AD chair.
As for the negative impact as Holgorsen takes over the program, it will be minimal.
The school has to inform prospective recruits that they're on two years probation. What most prospects want to know, however, is whether a program is on TV, or in bowls and WVU remains plentiful in that regard.
As for the one scholarship reduction for the 2011-12 school year?
Even taking into account incoming recruits and perhaps some who will or won't make it academically (the Big East doesn't allow non-qualifiers), WVU will be just fine. It currently has 81 scholarship football players.
The settlement of the Mountaineers' NCAA infractions case was a cooperative effort between school and the Committee on Infractions. WVU had the advantage of watching Michigan in its very similar case under Rodriguez and putting that experience to wise use.
WVU's aggressiveness in changing its compliance culture and oversight mattered a lot in this one. Its willingness to self-impose 10 of its penalties helped get the matter settled sooner than later.
Now, Luck and Holgorsen can move forward. They are no longer trying to clean up someone else's mess. The courses they chart from here is up to them. They promise to be aggressive. They need to be clean, too.
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.