Former WVU quarterback Luck takes on a new challenge
By SEAN MCNAMARA, Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — For many years, West Virginia was home for Cleveland, Ohio, native Oliver Luck.
It started back when he was a quarterback for the West Virginia University Mountaineers from 1978-81, all while becoming a Rhodes Scholar finalist prior to being drafted into the NFL.
Nearly four decades later, he returned to his alma mater in 2010 to serve as athletic director, a position he held for four years until 2014.
During that time, he presided over many major changes in the WVU athletic program, most notably the shift from the Big East Conference to the Big 12.
That, along with several coaching changes, made Luck a polarizing figure — both positively and negatively — in the eyes of many.
Now, four years removed from his post as the head of the athletic department, Luck and everyone else around the program have been able to see the results of what started in his tenure.
“I think the state of athletics is in great shape,” Luck said of the current position of WVU. “I think Shane Lyons is doing a remarkable job.
“I think the leadership at the university has recognized for a number of years the value of Big 12 membership.
“I think our peer institutions in the Big 12 look a lot like us, West Virginia.”
Regionally, the Big 12 still is a less-than-ideal conference in the eyes of many, with every other school being in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa or Kansas, and away games not being the easy travel destination they once were.
While the schools may be far away, the economics have worked in West Virginia’s favor, with the department receiving about $34.3 million of the conference’s $371 million in revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2017.
That level of revenue is something most can get behind.
“I think we’ve found a really nice home,” Luck said. “I think the economics — and that’s important, athletics has to pay its own way — are great, not just for the premier sports like football and basketball, but for all the sports.
“I think baseball has benefited incredibly from the Big 12 move. I think I’m correct in saying construction has taken place for a new aquatic center and a new track for our swim and track team. For any of the sports at the university I think it’s one of the best times ever.”
After leaving WVU the second time around following his shake up of the athletic department, Luck took a job as executive vice president for regulatory affairs and strategic partnerships with the NCAA.
“I was really enjoying the work,” Luck said. “I’m a big fan of college athletics and what it does for young men, young women and what it does for our universities.
“By and large I was very content in what I was doing in my work.”
That’s when someone affiliated with the WWE’s Vince McMahon reached out to Luck to gauge his interest in another strategic partnership, this time with the XFL, a once-failed professional football league that was attempting to make a comeback after surviving just a single season in 2001.
The Xtreme Football League, complete with its unique camera angles, novelty team names and striking personalities were the calling card of the league years ago. This time, McMahon hopes to bring new life to the project, and wanted Luck to be the man in charge.
“There’s not too many people who have run professional football leagues before,” Luck said, “and I was one of those people.”
Luck’s experience came back when he served as president of NFL Europe during the 1990s. The opportunity to perform similar duties here in the United States was an intriguing one for Luck, and McMahon’s commitment to making it work this time around with an estimated $500 million investment according to ESPN struck him.
Luck was willing to take a meeting and sat down with McMahon to see what his vision was this time around.
“I’m always interested in talking to folks who want to put significant capital behind a new professional football league because I love the game and have a lot of respect for the game,” Luck said. “So I took a meeting and I talked to Vince. I realized that he had a great vision and was very serious about this.
“He had learned, I think, from some of the decisions made in the past during the first iteration of the XFL in 2001,” Luck continued. “I thought to myself, ‘Gosh, how often do you get to be a part of a brand-new league starting literally from scratch and being able to have your fingerprints all over it.
“It’s a sport that I have a lot of passion for, and I thought, ‘I’m going to accept the offer and do this.’ I think we can do it and do it well, and I think it will be a lot of fun.”
The job he took was as commissioner and CEO, a post he took back in June.
While he anticipates the job being fun, it will no doubt be a unique challenge. Not only did the league fail once already, but did so in a fashion that made many question if a league affiliated with scripted professional wrestling could ever succeed.
In taking on the challenge, Luck will lean on his experience in athletic leadership roles in the past, not only in NFL Europe, but as president of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, athletic director at WVU and as an executive with the NCAA.
“I think everything one does in one’s life prepares them for the next challenge,” Luck said. “So I look back to my time working for the National Football League, working in Morgantown as an athletic director and working in other executive positions within the sports and business world. I think all of those will help me put this together.”
It will be a new challenge, but not one that’s 100 percent foreign.
“The 10 years with the National Football League after I was a player — basically running NFL Europe and launching franchises over there — I think that is somewhat similar to the challenge that we’ll have in the XFL — although we’re obviously in different marketplaces and on different continents,” Luck said. “All of those past experiences have helped me navigate through some of this stuff and provide the leadership to what will become an organization of a couple hundred people, not including the 400-some players we’ll have and coaches.”
The league is still in its germination stage, with play not slated to start until 2020. Cities, players, venues, rules and everything else are yet to be established, but Luck hopes that his experience, coupled with what everyone learned with the XFL the first time around, will make him the right man to make the league succeed.
Along the way, he will lean on everything in his past, including what took place in Morgantown, will prepare him to take on this new challenge.
“I guess I could say all of those things that I’ve done going back to playing professional and college football at WVU and high school football and being associated with guys like Don Nehlen — all of those things will help me take on this challenge,” Luck said.
Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com
Former WVU quarterback Luck takes on a new challenge