From the Bench: Luck Talks New NCAA Gig, Big 12 Significance and Failure to Renew Backyard Brawl
By Jeff Toquinto on August 02, 2015
It’s not even been a year since Oliver Luck left his position at West Virginia University as athletic director for a new post – both literally and figuratively – at the NCAA. Earlier this year, Luck began his role in a new NCAA post where he holds the title of executive vice president of regulatory affairs.
“I am enjoying it,” Luck said of his new gig, which is pretty high up on the NCAA food chain. “It’s interesting and challenging.”
For those that wonder what on earth the executive vice president of regulatory affairs does, you’re not alone. So I asked Luck to break it down in a one or two sentence description in layman’s terms.
“From a layman’s perspective, it’s a lot of stuff people don’t see,” said Luck. “There’s a lot of regulatory things the NCAA is involved with that makes sure everyone, every single student athlete is eligible and meeting the standards of our student athletes”
While that sounds simple enough, here’s a little more in-depth way of looking at things. There are four divisions within the NCAA in the national office and Luck oversees three of them. One of the divisions – the championship division that focuses on 90 championships with exception of the college football playoff – Luck is not involved with. The others, well for lack of a better term, he’s top dog. And the other divisions are regulatory in their nature and scope from Division I down to Division III.
One of the three divisions is the NCAA eligibility center. If a student wants to compete in college, that’s the clearinghouse area and Luck oversees that
Then there is the enforcement unit. When you talk about the bylaws of the NCAA, that’s another group that Luck handles
And when it comes to creating a new rule or changing a rule, it goes through the AMA – Academic and Membership Affairs. When you see a decision made by the NCAA and media reports about it being accepted or an appeal, this lands here and it – too – is a priority of Luck.
All of those things mean that Luck’s current job doesn’t have him in front of the camera and out in the public in the same manner as it did during his time with WVU as the athletic director from June 30, 2010 to Jan. 15 of this year. However, he said there’s still plenty of interaction with individuals – just in a much different manner.
“We interface with the institutions constantly so I’m on the phone a lot with athletic directors and others involved from campuses as big as Ohio State to the smallest Division III school. My visibility is primarily within the collegiate community … That’s kind of a nice thing,” Luck said with a laugh.
Roughly a half a year into his new job and a longer time away from his duties in Morgantown, Luck was able to reflect back and talk about his time there where he was always visible and in front of the camera. And he was able to directly talk about several issues he faced that are still of public interest even since his departure.
Leading off was what was arguably his signature moment at WVU. That moment involves getting the Mountaineers off the sinking Big East ship and onto the deck of what is now one of the Power 5 Conferences in the Big 12.
“That’s probably fair to say that was it,” said Luck when asked about the paramount moment of his time at WVU. “At the end of the day conference affiliation is essential for a program.”
Luck took it one step further, however, in describing just how essential it was as he could see the Big East beginning the sideway swim toward its inevitable football demise
“When you had Pitt and Syracuse leave and TCU deciding not to join, it was an existential threat to the University,” said Luck. “When you think about it, to a certain degree on an athletic front it was a threat to the state, particularly when you consider there are no pro teams. It would have been a major blow had you not been able to find a spot in what they’re calling now a Power 5 conference.”
Luck said even though he was proud of a number of things that took place during his time at the athletic director’s helm, it’s hard to argue with the value of the Big 12 move. And he said that, yes, money is a big reason.
“There is such a long-term financial impact. We made a 12-year granting of rights commitment that will results in dollars that when you stack it up over those 12 years and compare it what would have happened by staying in the old Big East, it’s significant,” Luck said. “There’s a difference of tens of millions of dollars; maybe more than a $100 million.”
While Luck is aware of the options he had at his disposal, he’s also aware that there are those out there that still believe another conference that was a better geographic fit was a very real opportunity. Luck may not have said it, but I will. It was the Big 12 or it would have been the American Athletic Conference. To think there was something better is foolish, particularly those who still want to believe that the ACC was actually an option or that other conferences were just waiting for us so they could pounce at the right time.
It wasn’t the case. Luck said as much.
“I think it’s accurate to say the ACC was never an option and all you have to do is go back and look at the history of the ACC and WVU’s history with the Southern Conference. The ACC changed its membership four or five times and never was WVU in the discussion and never invited,” said Luck. “ … When the most recent discussions were taking place, there was zero opportunity with the ACC – none.”
As for the SEC, well, that’s not the same story as our friends in the ACC. While Luck didn’t talk specifics, he did say something could have happened if …
“The SEC was a little bit different. Missouri took a long time to decide what it wanted to do and I think they were on the fence for six, seven, maybe eight months. Some thought Missouri was waiting for an offer from the Big 10 or may stay in the Big 12,” said Luck. “Had they stayed or had they become a member of the Big 10, we may have had an opportunity – and I emphasize the word maybe – to be in the SEC. The thing is nobody really knew what would have happened. What we do know is that Missouri’s move closed that door.”
The door to the Big 10 was never open either and it had nothing to do with a slight at WVU. Luck said he had, and still has, a great relationship with Commissioner Jim Delaney, but that WVU simply did not have Association of American University status.
“That’s not a slam against the University, but that’s why we weren’t even considered,” said Luck.
As for consideration, Luck said staunchly that a WVU-Pitt renewal in football was considered. He said comments he made about him working with former Pitt AD Steve Pederson during his AD time at WVU wasn’t lip service. Luck said they actually did try to work out some non-conference games and it went beyond just a casual phone call.
“He and I talked about it a good bit and even exchanged potential years when we could play. To be fair to Pitt, and no Mountaineer wants to be fair to Pitt, you have to understand their position at that time where they’re transferring to the ACC over a two-year period,” said Luck.
Pederson said WVU was a third priority behind Notre Dame and Penn State, according to Luck. Notre Dame was first due to what Luck said was the Fighting Irish’s arrangement “or whatever proper term it is” for its ACC relationship. Luck said once Pederson would figure that out he was agreeable to consider it, but both are ADs are now gone and recent rumblings between the two coaches make it look like the Backyard Brawl is going to be the Backburner Brawl.
“I don’t think Steve wanted Notre Dame and WVU on the non-conference schedule in the same year and that make sense. I just hope (new Athletic Director) Shane (Lyons) can get it on the schedule and I know the new AD (Steve Barnes) at Pitt is a great guy,” said Luck. “It’s going to be difficult because of the different conferences, but I think at some point it will happen.
“We were able to get Virginia tech, Penn State and add Tennessee and North Carolina State to upcoming schedules so it could happen,” Luck continued. “Looking back, though, I think I was most disappointed about not getting Virginia back on the schedule. I think that’s a perfect fit.”
While Luck seemed to enjoy waxing nostalgic about his time in Morgantown, he’s pleased with his move. He said his family is enjoying the new setting in Indianapolis and not just because his son Andrew plays for the Colts.
“It’s always nice to be around family no matter where you are, but that was serendipitous,” said Luck. “Had the NCAA still been in Kansas City, we would have moved there for the opportunity that the NCAA provided.”
While some scorn Luck for some of his moves in Morgantown, most don’t. Count yours truly among those who see the opportunities Luck provided WVU similar to the one he helped in getting the Mountaineers into the Big 12. After all, if your other choice is the American Athletic Conference, you’ll move just about anywhere.
Editor's Note: Photos show Luck during multiple events while serving as WVU's athletic director, including more than one stop in Bridgeport.