WVU athletics: Golf added to sports fold
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For the first time since Oliver Luck's rookie season in the NFL, West Virginia will have a men's golf team in time for the 2015-16 season.
Luck, the Mountaineers' athletic director, announced Monday that WVU is reintroducing the sport, which had been on the school's varsity roster from 1933-82. The Mountaineers now have 18 sports and offer enough to meet the Big 12's requirements.
Monday was the first anniversary of WVU's entrance into the league after being a member of the Big East since 1991.
Big 12 membership requires six men's and six women's sports. WVU had 10 women's sports and five men's sports, plus co-ed rifle. Luck said the Mountaineers considered men's tennis, men's cross country and indoor and outdoor men's track and field.
"We looked at financial factors, we looked at Title IX factors, we looked at fundraising opportunities the sports offer us and we looked at the necessity, or the lack thereof, of infrastructure of the sports," Luck said. "What made the most sense was to bring back men's golf to get in accordance with the Big 12 bylaws."
Finances worked heavily in golf's favor. Luck said various donors have made "verbal commitments" of more than $1.5 million to support the program's operations and scholarship endowment. WVU will begin with 1.5 scholarships, but Luck said the athletic department is "absolutely committed" to working toward the NCAA maximum of 4.5 scholarships to be spread throughout the roster by the 2017-18 season.
"It made sense for us to ramp up to 4.5 and perhaps use the 2014-15 academic year to maybe do some open tournaments for the students here," Luck said. "We think there may well be student-athletes enrolled in the university who are more than capable of playing for our golf team."
Luck added that golf, men's tennis and men's cross country had the 4.5-scholarship limit while indoor and outdoor track and field had 12.6-scholarship limits.
Additionally, WVU said a fully funded golf program would cost about $257,162 annually.
"We looked at what Big 12 schools playing golf are paying, what peer institutions playing golf are paying, and what you find is a lot of programs at the Division I level are paying $250,000, $300,000," Luck said. "Based on that, we think our approximation is a pretty good number in terms of launching a program."
According to WVU's 2011-12 equity report, the Mountaineers needed $470,408 for women's tennis and $851,642 for the combined women's cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams. While WVU has tennis courts and could find cross-country courses, it would have likely needed to renovate its track facilities.
The golf team can make use of the state's wealth of courses.
"I can't imagine we wouldn't have a great opportunity to put together a collegiate tournament at one of these great courses," Luck said.
WVU will also be able to manage expenses because the coaching staff will have only the head coach and because the roster won't be so large that it racks up travel costs. The travel for golf, which is split up into fall and spring seasons that span much of the academic year, is much more flexible and limited than it is for sports like football, basketball and baseball.
"We will not play a regular season (schedule) with the Big 12, just a championship event," said Terri Howes, the associate athletic director for sports administration. "Much of our travel operating cost is based on competitions in the mid-Atlantic and eastern regions."
The Big 12 does provide WVU a number of models to emulate. Oklahoma State has won 10 national championships and counts among many former players Michael Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Morgan Hoffman, Charles Howell III, Edward Loar, Hunter Mahan, Jeff Maggert, Bob Tway, Bo Van Pelt, Scott Verplank and Casey Wittenberg. Mark Brooks, Ben Crenshaw, Bob Estes, Harrison Frazar, Tom Kite and Justin Leonard played at three-time national champion Texas while Martin Flore, Hunter Haas, Todd Hamilton, Anthony Kim and Grant Waite have played at Oklahoma, which has one national title.
Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and TCU have also produced professional players.
"Golf had a strong tradition on this campus, and its statewide popularity makes it a perfect addition to our department," said Luck, who pointed out 108 West Virginia high schools in West Virginia offered boys' golf and 1,016 boys competed. "A lot of thought, time and effort went into this decision as far as cost, travel and infrastructure goes, and I believe the strong tradition and history of Big 12 golf will only enhance our chances of building a championship program."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.