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Luck: WVU lucky to be switching leagues

WHEN IT comes to college athletics these days, one needs a program to keep up with the programs. In football, there are polls and computer rankings. There are league standings. Conference realignment is affecting all.

And now, in addition to all that, the difficult-to-understand Bowl Championship Series might be undergoing a makeover. Reports say BCS leagues might sever ties with their bowls and simply concentrate on a No. 1-2 national championship matchup. The BCS bowls - Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange - would have more freedom. Matching up last season's Big East champ, Connecticut, against Oklahoma (a 48-20 Sooner rout), for instance, would no longer be necessary.

If that comes to pass?

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is even more pleased his program is moving from the Big East to the Big 12.

"In my mind, if we do go back to the old system, where conferences realign themselves with bowls, I can't see any of the big bowls wanting Big East teams," Luck said in a telephone interview.

Unless the Big East makes major moves, Luck is correct. Fiesta Bowl officials didn't want Connecticut last season. In 2009, the Sugar Bowl certainly didn't want to match up Florida with the Big East's Cincinnati (a 51-24 Gator rout). The year before, the Orange took Virginia Tech and the Bearcats (a 20-7 Hokie victory). How about after the 2006 season, when the Orange Bowl had Louisville and Wake Forest?

In most cases, these bowls would rather have the No. 3 or 4 Southeastern Conference team than the Big East champ. So the automatic qualifying system might go out the window.

Perhaps that's why BYU, Boise State and Air Force haven't signed with the Big East yet. If there's no AQ, there's little appeal to joining the conference. (Except, perhaps, a decent television contract. Perhaps.)

"It remains to be seen whether we move to that model," Luck said of the bowl structure. "But I think that would make our recent move [to the Big 12] all the more valuable."

It's been argued that WVU would have a better chance of reaching the higher-profile bowls by staying in the Big East. The current BCS bowls, as well as, perhaps, the Cotton, could use a rating system and take the top eight to 10 teams regardless of conference affiliation. Then again, the bowls could play off league ties and take whichever teams strike their fancy.

"It will make the delineation even more pronounced between the haves and have-nots," Luck predicted.

He predicts the remaining power conferences - SEC, Pac 12, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 - would dominate the slots in the more prestigious bowls, which is why WVU is fortuitous to be jumping to the Big 12.

"We were fortunate to get out," said the WVU AD. "We got out [of the Big East] when the ship was seriously going down. I mean, only the tip of the sail was showing."

He focused on the AQ.

"If the AQ goes away," Luck said, "a Big East team will be forced to go unbeaten. That's doable. [Conference USA member] Houston, for instance, has a claim. But even then, would that team go into the top 10?

"If the goal is to go to a BCS game, it's better to play in one of the power conferences."

Indeed. The take from here is a school like WVU can stay in a weaker conference, defeat lesser opponents and try to beat one of the traditional big boys in a bowl. (If it can get there in a new system.) Or it can play better opponents and strive to become one of the big boys.

Will that be difficult?

"No question it's going to be a challenge," Luck said. "But we're in a better position to do so in the Big 12."

The goal certainly won't be reached without paying a price. But that's another reason Luck says WVU will be better off in the Big 12 than the Big East. The BCS, with the exception of the title game, could cease to exist and allow the bowls to channel their money directly to their contracted leagues. Or, if the BCS remains, the Big East could be without a berth down the road.

"Without BCS money [distributed to conferences] it will be harder to spend on improving facilities, etc.," Luck said. "Financially, we'll be better off in the Big 12."

The BCS leagues, by the way, will share $145.2 million this year.

"Money does matter," Luck said. "Look at what happened to Oregon with [donor] Phil Knight. Look at Oklahoma State and [donor] T. Boone Pickens."

Luck said money also comes into play in regard to his program's fan base. Playing Big 12 teams will gather bigger crowds than those currently in or projected to be in the Big East.

But back to WVU and its ability to gain a berth in current BCS bowls. What one must realize is those within football circles, including fans, understand the difference between playing in, say, the Big East and Big 12. A 10-2 Mountaineer team playing within the Big 12 would be just as respected, if not more so, than one undefeated in the Big East.

It's what WVU has been fighting since Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left the Big East. Check the latest Associated Press poll. Houston is undefeated, yet the Cougars are ranked No. 11. Seven teams ahead of Houston have one loss.

The saving grace for WVU has been BCS victories. Ever notice how Mountaineer fans point to their team's BCS wins more than Big East titles? There's a reason for it - more prestige.

Anyway, while the BCS debate continues, I asked Luck what his staff has been doing while the lawyers prepare for court dates with the Big East. ("I know," he said when asked for specifics on those, "we haven't filed a response yet to [the case in] Providence.")

"We're 100 percent focused on 2012 in the Big 12," Luck said. "We're really taking a look at every one of our sports, where they stack up. We're looking at each [Rating Percentage Index].

"We spent two days on baseball. We're looking at where our teams, facilities and salaries stack up. And I can tell you the pool is changing. It's getting deeper."

It's what Luck anticipated when he started to beat the bushes for a new conference home. (Luck, by the way, said he ran into SEC commissioner Mike Slive in an airport over the weekend and the two spoke for over a half hour. Wouldn't that conversation have been fun to eavesdrop?) The payoff will be better, but the expenses will be higher. The goal is to make sure the former outweighs the latter.

"We're looking at volleyball, cross country, track, everything," Luck said. "I told all the coaches to talk to their Big 12 colleagues and get a sense of what we need to do to upgrade our programs.

"I mean, some will be able to compete right away. But look at women's tennis. Those in the Big 12 care about women's tennis.

"So we're going through a pretty comprehensive review of all sports from football on down."

In other words, someday soon, you might need a new program for WVU's program, too.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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