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Mike Casazza: Luck speaks for first time on facility projects

MORGANTOWN — Oliver Luck talked Tuesday morning about the $106-million master plan for improving West Virginia University’s athletic venues, the plan that needs just approval from the Higher Education Policy Commission on April 25 to become reality.

Luck’s press conference was the first time the athletic director has been permitted to comment publicly on something a long time coming. But if we’re being honest, he didn’t have to say anything because the answers to every reasonable question surrounded him.

For starters, the event outside his office was in a reception area outside of the academic area on the top floor of the Coliseum. It isn’t a room designed for something like a press conference, but it was made to work as one with four rows of five chairs unfolded in all their gold and blue glory, to say nothing of rust and dents and torn and warped cushions.

On the far side of the room, removed from the standing-room only crowd of reporters, sat a student-athlete trying to get some quiet time to herself between classes who was forced to pop in ear buds to do her work.

It’s not accurate to say the time has come to give the facilities the attention they deserve, because that time passed long ago. That was something Luck explained with detail and examples, both easy to accept and hard to believe, during his 37 minutes with the media.

But again, he didn’t really have to say anything. Behind Luck and his podium was a mural splashed across a wall. It’s a collage of six venues on campus.

Four of those six — the ones for baseball, men’s and women’s soccer, track and football — are to receive work.

Why, since Luck finished his playing career with a Peach Bowl win against Florida on the last day of 1981, WVU has added two competition sites on campus. The soccer fields and the tennis courts both need renovations as part of the master plan. The tennis court is one of two facilities that are part of the plan that aren’t regulation size.

The other is the swimming pool in the Natatorium, which is the home for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams. That pool is where senior Bryce Bohman put in the countless hours this season that went toward three individual school records and four relay records, a Big 12 title in the 100-meter backstroke and first-team All-America honors in the 100 and 200 backstroke.

But that pool is woefully inadequate. A regulation pool is 50 meters long. WVU’s is 25 meters long. Try telling Bob Huggins he has to get ready for Kansas using half the court at the Coliseum.

That’s not necessary, of course, because Huggins and women’s basketball coach Mike Carey have the fantastic basketball practice facility they wanted. But properly sized tennis courts and a normal pool, a track in the Shell Building that’s almost twice the age of the student-athletes running on it, a locker room for teams visiting the soccer stadium are all things WVU needs. There’s a massive difference that’s no longer possible to ignore.

For a long time, WVU has been very good at maintaining its facilities. Thanks to its association with the Big 12, IMG College and the Mountaineer Athletic Club that will combine to fund the projects, WVU is now able to enhance and replace what it has.

“I think the facilities at the university for athletics were always good, no question about that, but I think that any building that gets 30, 35, 40 years old, very much like a home or a dormitory or anything else, it needs rejuvenation and it needs updates,” Luck said. “Fans expect more — and they should expect more because we charge them more money — but fans expect more when they go to a ball game than they did certainly at old Mountaineer Field.

“I think they probably expect more than they did when new Mountaineer Field opened in 1980, and that applies to the Coliseum. A good bit of this is really for fan enjoyment. I think it’ll enhance the experience.”

That’s overdue, too, and not just because of money spent on the practice facilities for men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer or the football team’s weight room. Fans have been getting pinched for years now, if not financially, then physically, and expansion projects for the concourse areas at Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum seek to fix that.

Once more, though, Luck didn’t have to tell anyone that because the explanations surrounded him. One floor below him was the much-maligned concourse level of the Coliseum, the one that’s 102 restroom units and 21 concession stand transaction units short of federal standards. Think of how long that’s been neglected to fall that far behind.

With students and teachers vacating the Coliseum and the concourse level after this semester to go to their new home at the CPASS building on the Evansdale campus, WVU can knock out walls and do away with space-eating class rooms and racquetball courts and add the space and the restroom and concession facilities the place needs. That figures to cost no less than $25 million.

Similarly, WVU will borrow ideas from what Iowa State did with Jack Trice Stadium, a place that’s looks similar to Mountaineer Field because it was designed and built by the same people in 1975. WVU will expand the concourses and add entrance gates in all four corners of the stadium and all for about $50 million.

If you’re a skeptic, recall the problem WVU had with the play clock in the stadium for the Oklahoma game in 2012. It was out for a while and it was a bad look for the Mountaineers. Huge pieces of pyrite had come to the surface through the years and on that night busted the box that kept the play clock running. Think of how long it was neglected to cause a problem like that.

And now think of an athletic department that no longer has to be weighed down by those issues.


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