West Virginia recently completed its historic inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference and it was one of ups and downs on the field. As part of our continuing series WVSports.com sat down with West Virginia Director of Athletics Oliver Luck to get his thoughts on the Mountaineers move and what's next?
Luck has been most impressed with the overall quality of the conference from top to bottom in every individual sport. That has been the single biggest difference than what the Mountaineers had become accustomed to seeing in the Big East conference, particularly in some of the Olympic sports.
"The Big East was certainly very competitive in basketball men and women's, it was better than most people thought in football but there was a big drop off in some of the other sports," he said.
The Mountaineers finished 7-6 in football and 13-19 in men's basketball, with losing marks in both sports in conference.
It's not that there weren't quality teams in each sport, more the fact that the overall conference from top to bottom, while larger in numbers, was not nearly as deep in quality. Women's soccer is one sport that Luck highlighted as an example.
"The schools in this conference take athletics seriously. They're all fairly well-funded," Luck said.
Programs such as Oklahoma and Texas are obviously major players in multiple sports, while other schools such as Oklahoma State and TCU continue to increase their athletic profile.
Going against those schools on a regular basis will only continue to force officials at West Virginia to review everything they are doing in order to stay competitive. That ranges from how West Virginia can raise their level of recruiting, facilities, coaching and academic advising to name a few.
"All the stuff we need do we need to try to do it better," he said.
Luck realizes that all of that won't happen at once, but there have been some encouraging signs that those involved with the programs just need to continue to work hard as well as learn more about the conference.
The increased competition level also has attracted fans especially with teams that are able to compete, as was evident during the Mountaineers baseball season which drew seven of their eight largest crowds after playing for 119 years.
"People say that baseball will never support itself. I think they're wrong. With all due respect, I just think they're wrong because they see what's been not what things can be," he said.
Overall, Luck said that nothing necessarily surprised him about the Mountaineers first season in the league, but he was very impressed with the on-campus venues, particularly men's basketball arenas, and the support that each of those programs are given.
"We didn't have that in the Big East because many of the teams played in professional venues or played off campus," he said.
Working with the fellow athletic directors and university presidents of the Big 12 has been what Luck calls a great "experience," as the membership has welcomed the Mountaineers with open arms.
Much to that point, there has been much discussion about the travel for West Virginia which is a geographic outlier in the Big 12 but Luck said that although the geography can't be changed the conference has been very open to many of the suggestions made by Mountaineer officials.
"They're agreed to try to bake those into the schedules. They can't guarantee it every year because it's hard to make schedules," he said. "But the conference was very willing to consider our issues."
Luck expects that while it won't happen every season, much of the travel concerns will be addressed most years, although the athletic director does not believe the travel is as big of a concern as it has been made out to be especially compared to many of the flights to Big East cities.
"We're spending more money on travel but that's more than compensated for by the bigger checks we're getting from the Big 12," he said.
The conference as a whole is very stable with the grant of rights currently in place, and luck is a big proponent of the current round-robin schedule in football and basketball. While other leagues have difficulties with scheduling and allowing teams to play one another, the Big 12 gives every member the chance to meet, while in basketball providing a home and away contest.
It's an ideal setting particularly due to the depth of the conference, Luck said.
The conference is also well positioned with the upcoming football playoff in 2014 and Luck is anxiously looking forward to seeing how things shake out in regards to how the five power conferences and if their varying sizes contribute to more success or failure in qualifying for the four spots.
"It's going to be an interesting experiment. It's like an experiment in a laboratory and you've got five different petri dishes: one with 10, one with 12 and three with 14 and it's really interesting who's better off in this playoff situation or will we even know?"
Part 1--Sitting down with Luck: Facilities--http://westvirginia.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1518962
Part 2--Sitting down with Luck: Scheduling--http://westvirginia.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1519370
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