MORGANTOWN - West Virginia's athletic department is in perhaps the best shape it's ever been, both financially and competitively. And if money and competitiveness were the only considerations, Oliver Luck probably would not have taken the job as the school's athletic director.
There is more to it than that, though. With the Pac-10 and the Big Ten apparently ready to expand, schools across the country are trying to brace themselves for change and position themselves as best they can, West Virginia included.
Meeting that challenge could be tricky, and a challenge is something from which Luck - named Thursday to succeed Ed Pastilong as WVU's athletic director - has never backed away. He was the president and CEO of NFL Europe for five years, has built sports stadiums in Houston and is now trying to sell soccer in that city as the president of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo.
"Absolutely,'' Luck said Thursday when asked if the challenge was part of the allure of the job. "If you look at the career that I've had in the sports business, or even going back to playing ball, I relish the opportunity to take on hard challenges, whether that's selling American football in Europe for a 10-year period or working in the soccer industry in this country. Soccer is a growing sport, but it's not one of the established sports like the NFL or MLB or the NBA or the National Hockey League is. So I've always enjoyed taking on challenges.
"And I think quite honestly, and this doesn't just apply to WVU, but this is an extraordinarily challenging time for a lot of institutions, given all that's in play with intercollegiate athletics and conference affiliations and all that. The foundation at WVU is great, absolutely. But because it's a challenging time with a lot of challenging external forces, it's something that really was attractive to me, more so than perhaps in a steady and slow time when not much was necessarily at stake.''
Luck looks at the conference landscape and sees the same thing as everyone else - mystery. The Big Ten was thought to hold the key and could expand in several directions, one of those being the Big East, of which WVU is a member. The Pac-10, though, is now apparently being proactive, and those shockwaves could stretch across the country.
But regardless of what happens with conference realignment in the days, weeks and months to come, those are likely only to be the first moves in a landscape that could shift dramatically. Luck compared all the talk surrounding it to a chess match.
"Obviously, as I think anybody who follows intercollegiate athletics knows, this is a particularly challenging time in intercollegiate athletics given all the conference realignment rumors and chess moves that are starting to be made,'' Luck said. "I think there will be further activity that goes on, certainly this summer and into next year. I'm not sure that even if the dust settles that that will be a permanent solution.