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Luck operates WVU athletic department like a business

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- You are free to say and think whatever you want about Oliver Luck.

You can call him anything you choose. He probably doesn't mind, and when an offseason unfolds the way this one has at West Virginia, he certainly understands some reactions are inevitable.

Yet don't refer to him as WVU's athletic director. Not for the purpose of this conversation. That is Luck's label, but that label is a limitation of who he is and what he must do for the Mountaineers.

Luck is not in charge of 17 varsity sports. He's in charge of a business. He runs, monitors and is accountable for a major operation with a $60 million budget; one with a tradition of finishing in the black in a time when many peers are red-faced and red-inked at the end of every June.

Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, whatever. Luck is the chief figure in the daily activities, in the dollars and cents, the perception, the performance, the marketability and every aspect of a self-sustaining athletic department.

If you're going to be good at it, you're going to be the bad guy from time to time. You're going to fire coaches. You're going to initiate major culture changes. You're going to scrub some precedents and you're going to rub some people the wrong way.

You're going to sell beer at football games and insist it will improve behavior. You're going to forsake a home football game for the sake of $500,000.

And you're going to do it because you believe it's the right thing to do for your job and for your constituency.

You work with a bottom line in mind and, more often than not, that's the bottom line. It's not a popularity contest and his is not an elected position.

This isn't a job about hiring and firing coaches, announcing schedules and showing up at press conferences to answer tough questions.

Oh, it's all of that, but so much more. Remember, Luck was hired in June 2010 despite a noticeable lack of any experience in intercollegiate athletics. Yet Luck knew sports and he knew business and he was fluent in operations and fundraising and spotting a problem and supplying a fix.

From a broad view or a focused one, Luck seems fixated on making money, even if he's paying a handful of football coaches to not coach football this year. But then again, isn't income important to pay that peculiar bill?

The truth, though, is money matters. There's no changing that. People instead have to change the way they feel about it. Schools have to adjust with the times and the new demands and challenges a new day provides. The fans have to adjust with it. If not, one or both are left behind as the others who get it and go with it make great strides.

Luck and the Mountaineers are in an uncertain era and no one knows how the future of conference alignments will break or if the Big East Conference itself will break. It is Luck's top priority to make sure it breaks right for the Mountaineers.

That doesn't mean WVU has to have the biggest bank account, but it means it has to have the best amenities it can have and be the most appealing it can be.

Fans can't dream the dreams and demand the demands they do around WVU and then complain about the things Luck must do to make those dreams attainable. This is about more than scoreboards and ribbon boards, suites and luxury seating, practice facilities and practice fields, bells and whistles, so on and so forth. It's perception and reputation and making sure both are at a level at least comparable to the best among peers or even superiors.

What's happened since school let out shines a light on all of that. WVU is selling beer. It's changed football coaches. It's taken on an odd football game in 2012.

The decision to play a Football Championship Subdivision school at FedEx Field next year is divisive, though for the wrong reasons. The only negative is playing this "home" game at a neutral site against an opponent from the lower division. That's it.

The thing about seven home games isn't a valid gripe. Not today.

Seven home games became a goal and something of a norm once the NCAA went to the 12-game regular season. It's just not going to be possible in the future when Texas Christian University joins the Big East next season and even less so if a 10th school signs on after. It's not going to be reasonable as these non-BCS programs demand a ransom, and one the Mountaineers can't afford like an Ohio State or Alabama can.

The opponent could be better than JMU, sure, but trust JMU wasn't the first option. And what if WVU blows the Dukes out and looks really, really good with so many people paying attention?

Fact is, WVU has only played seven home games seven times. It's a nice luxury for WVU and for the local economy, but it's no one's right. If nothing else, this is an opportunity for the WVU fans in that circle around Washington, D.C., to see their team in person as opposed to on television. Since when is this a bad idea?

Whatever happens to the local hotels and restaurants is, quite bluntly, collateral damage. It's not the sort of thing that should make Luck hesitate or even decline. There's too much to be gained by spending a very visible weekend - not just four quarters - in the metro Washington, D.C., area. And that doesn't even count the extra money WVU is guaranteed for leaving home.

Luck has a lot of chores, but propping up the economy isn't one of them, and Morgantown seems to be thriving and expanding quite nicely without basing itx entire existence on seven Saturdays.

Then again, the guy who's going out of his way to destroy civilization and deflate the economy may well have a solution that adds some prestige to his school and its facilities, but also puts money in local pockets.

WVU wants to start throwing concerts at Mountaineer Field. Last week the school worked out an agreement with the state's fire marshal to increase the amount of people permitted on the field from 3,500 to 6,000 and to have a stage at midfield.

Obviously, this isn't the sort of thing that can happen on a Friday before a home game or the Sunday after one. It will happen on a weekend when there's no football in town, or at all, and no occasion to otherwise stuff hotels and restaurants.

It's been a hidden source of revenue and appeal for many years, but the school and the arts and entertainment people believe it can thrive. Why the confidence-infused sudden change?

WVU can sell beer at concerts at Mountaineer Field and that controversial initiative suddenly makes a little more sense, not just because of the income, but because of the way WVU and Morgantown look as an attraction, a destination and, most importantly, a brand.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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