Former WVU quarterback and athletic director Oliver Luck has been rumored to be in the running to take over the NCAA.
The problem, of course, is defining what Luck’s charge would be. Would it be to steer the ship as is? Would it be to deconstruct it? Would it be to reconstruct it? That would have to be decided before anyone would consider taking the job, correct?
In a Tuesday interview Luck, who is also a co-founder of the Country Roads Trust, which handles WVU’s Name, Image and Likeness deals, shrugged off talk of him taking over the organization. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions on what’s happening in college athletics.
College football and basketball fans know of what I write. They’ve been watching the changing landscape with eyes wide open. Name, Image and Likeness deals are real. The transfer portal is, literally, a game changer
On Monday, a Sports Illustrated article by Ross Dellenger had a story with the headline of “Big Money Donors Have Stepped Out of the Shadows to Create ‘Chaotic’ NIL Market.” The story said the college sports landscape is “dramatically shifting back into the booster-driven world that plagued it decades ago.” It pointed out that the “improper benefits” that once gave SMU the “death penalty” by the NCAA is now being freely distributed – sometimes in the millions of dollars.
It’s scary if you’re a WVU fan, although Luck’s Trust was one of the first collectives to hit the market. How will the school keep up? Will there be even more of a separation of haves and have-nots than before? Can guardrails be put in place? What exactly is the trajectory of college sports?
“Well, it’s clearly going through a massive change, right?” Luck said. “You could argue that, gosh, probably going back to the 1950s to my experience in 1978-81 as a college football player it was probably not that much different. From Sam Huff to my experience probably wasn’t much different. I’d say also from my son Andrew’s experience at Stanford. There really wasn’t much fundamental change in the life of a college athlete for close to half a century. Maybe even longer.
“But then going back three or four years, you now have the full cost of attendance [paid]. There’s now the so-called Alston money where academic bonuses can be provided to students because of the Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision. There are things like NIL to the portal. It seems like there’s just a massive amount of change that’s happened in the last few years. It is a shock to the system.”
Luck was at The Greenbrier in southern West Virginia this past weekend and participated in a panel discussion with WVU President E. Gordon Gee and school athletic director Shane Lyons.
“There’s nothing more intriguing than the world of college sports right now,” he said before pointing to the work being done by the NCAA’s Transformation Committee, which is looking at the current governance structure. “I think we’re probably in an era when more changes are coming down the pike pretty fast.”
So, what does that mean for WVU and schools of the same ilk? Across the country, money is being thrown around to athletes and recruits like candy at Halloween.
“It’s a concern for a lot of Power 5 schools,” Luck said. “Do we have the resources to really compete? It’s true of society in general, but you look at the upper crust of colleges financially. A lot of those [throwing big money around] are in the SEC. Maybe one of them, USC, is out in California. You’ve got a couple elsewhere. And those are clearly programs that have the resources to compete. A lot of the other schools have to really work for resources.
“But you know WVU has always punched above its weight. We have some resources, but we’re not as blessed as others. Yet that’s been true for ages at WVU. And I think we have to continue to do that. You have to work smarter, maybe a little bit harder because we don’t have the natural resources of some others. That’s always been the case.”
Will there be a separation of haves and have-nots?
“I’ve been reading predictions,” Luck said. “I think the last one I read was from [athletic director] Jack Swarbrick over at Notre Dame. He predicted there’d be sort of two groups that engage in big-time college football — but under a different system. One would be sort of the schools that say no to all the money and say the traditional academic role of the student is important. There will be the ones that say we’re not going to change that. And you know what, we’re gonna go find schools that are thinking the same way. They’ll find other like-minded institutions, some of the other private schools that may not want to compete that way.
“There are those that aren’t a big public school with 50,000 students and literally hundreds of thousands of alumni. Right now, you have 65 Power 5 schools, soon to be 69 with the new Big 12 members. We’ll see how that works out.”
Luck said change has been called for since the 1970s when former Mountaineer football coach Don Nehlen joined with Chuck Neinas’ call for a new system. Remember the College Football Association of 1977, formed to negotiate contracts with TV networks? There was little headway made, but the tension was there and remained.
“The CFA didn’t last very long but that was an attempt to sort of wrestle if you will, big time college football away from the governance of the NCAA,” Luck said.
He paused before restarting.
“Here’s the way I look at the world of college football, men’s basketball. There have always been two pillars holding it all up. There have always been two pillars separating it from professional sports, from minor league baseball, the G League [in basketball], etc.
“One pillar was that these kids were amateurs. Of course, that pillar has crumbled like one in one of those old Greek temples. The whole pillar has just fallen to the ground.
“The other pillar, though, is still standing. I said, this to Gordon [Gee]. That’s the pillar of participants being students. The athletes are still students at WVU and Fairmont State and Ohio State etc. That pillar hasn’t crumbled, thankfully. But it’s also showing signs of wear and tear.
“I say that because what does it mean to be a student anymore? You know how higher ed has been delivered the last three or four years because of COVID. It’s changed a lot, right? Remote learning. Going back, there’s that story about Johnny Manziel. The year he won the Heisman Trophy, it’s been said he didn’t set foot on the [Texas] A&M campus because he was taking all online classes. The idea of student-athletes is to be on campus, getting to know teammates, getting to know classmates, kids living in the same dorm or whatever. I told Gordon that pillar has to be protected. It’s critical. Otherwise, if they’re not students, if they’re not amateurs, it’s a semiprofessional operation. It’s a semiprofessional operation that won’t be as good as the NFL or the NBA or Major League Baseball, where the best athletes in the world are.”
And of the portal?
“I don’t understand how all these kids go into the portal and come out the other end, two or three months later, with their academics in place,” Luck said. “I don’t know where they’re getting their credits. Are they in school at their prior institutions? All these kids say ‘I’m committed to Miami’ in April. Well, have you been in school at Wichita State? Seriously. I know you can make up a lot of credit hours in the summer, but it just seems like the academic component is being watered down.”
Let’s hope many of these issues are tackled – and that somehow, some way, that one pillar is fortified.
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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.