Despite marketing nightmare, WVU athletic game plan coming into focus

Despite marketing nightmare, WVU athletic game plan coming into focus

As Matt Wells, WVU’s Senior Associate Athletics Director, spoke, you could hear the wear in his voice.

On Wednesday, there were seven Zoom meetings. There were multiple other calls, texts and emails. The Mountaineer athletic department, let’s face it, has herculean tasks on its plate. Staging games during the Covid-19 pandemic, addressing health concerns, selling tickets, keeping fan interest, keeping a multimillion-dollar department afloat, saving jobs…

Oh, and then there’s home life, school and daycare issues, etc.

“It’s all part of the deal,” Wells told me Thursday morning. “We keep putting plans together and scrapping them when something changes and putting together a new plan. That’s all you can do. We’ve done Plan A through Z – a couple times.”

Of course, there’s a bunch of bad news for the department. In an interview with Tony Caridi, Mountaineer Athletic Director Shane Lyons said WVU sports lost around $5 million last fiscal year. Lyons said he’s facing another $18 million in loss of revenue this coming fiscal year – if, that is, all football and men’s basketball games are played.

Hopefully, though, plans are coming into focus soon for everyone, including Mountaineer fans.

“We’re planning on playing games and getting fans in the stands,” Wells said. “The first set of decisions that allowed us to dive into that plan was when the conferences made decisions on their formats, with us (in the Big 12) and the ACC going with conference games plus one, a home game. That was the trigger point that allowed us to go into concrete planning rather than contingency planning.”

So, as of now, yes, WVU will face Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 12. Expect, though, a reshaped rest of the Mountaineer schedule, which, of course, consists solely of conference games. The Big 12 championship will be moved back so bye weeks can be inserted in the name of cushioning.

A clear game plan – whether it works out or not – is forthcoming. That’s at least a step during these confusing times. A report came out early this week that the NCAA’s Board of Governors would be handing off the task of deciding fall championships to the D-I Board of Directors.

A writer retweeted with this tag: I’m so confused.

Understandable. But the NCAA Board of Governors simply decided to allow each division to make their own decisions. Power 5 leagues, with much more wherewithal to deal with health concerns, etc., don’t have to abide by the same rules as, say, Division III.

“We’ve put in some pretty extensive procedures,” Wells said. “You may know we had to hit the pause button on both men’s and women’s basketball. Football has had positives (testing), but we’ve been able to manage it. Men’s basketball has managed it since they popped up.

“It’s all just a part of the learning process for all of us. There’s no blueprint. We’re just rolling with it.”

Lyons, by the way, has indicated WVU will try to allow 20 to 30 percent of Puskar Stadium’s capacity (60,000) to attend games. If you go with 25 percent, that would be around 15,000. More season tickets than that have been sold.

“We’ve sold about 18,300 season tickets,” Wells said. “That’s pretty strong all things considered and with all the unknowns and the economic impact Covid has had on people… I doubt we’ll be able to accommodate all 18,000 season ticket holders with a ticket to every game. We’ve modeled out what a single-game model looks like. The people who purchased their season tickets and made their (Mountaineer Athletic Club) gifts will have priority for the available games. Then we’ll work through it on a priority structure.”

These are complicated and fluid times. So Lyons, Wells, etc., are having those daily Zoom meetings. They are sharing information. They are hoping. Yet at least that game plan is coming into focus.

“One of the dominoes that had to fall was ‘What does the schedule look like?’ One of the dominoes was ‘When will our start date be?’” Wells said. “Trust me, we’ve put together several scenarios. We shared them with the appropriate parties. Ultimately, we’re not at final decisions because everyone wants to have as much information as possible.

“But we’re closer now than ever to finalizing those plans, communicating to the appropriate parties and subsequently communicating that to the fans.”

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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.


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