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Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has many projects on his desk.

And he's ready to start clearing many of them.

On Thursday, Luck told me his department is set to take out a multi-million-dollar bond to work on facilities such as Milan Puskar Stadium, the Coliseum and other venues.

"We've sat down with the folks downtown [in WVU's finance department]," Luck said. "We've looked ahead 12 years, which is the length of the Big 12 grant-of-rights [media contract].

"The Big 12 has laid out for us what we can expect [in regard to income]. Same with IMG [and its third-tier deal with WVU]. The TV and IMG numbers are guaranteed. So the financial folks have said we can have X amount of excess. They've said we can bond the amount and get one big chunk now.

"I'm not sure exactly how much we'll be able to access, but it will be north of $50 million."

It's a substantial step for WVU's athletic department. It's a step Luck obviously feels is necessary in order to keep pace with the rest of the Big 12 and other members of power conferences.

He sees Baylor building a new $260 million football stadium. He sees Duke spending $250 million for upgrades to Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium. He sees Nebraska spending over $63 million to expand its football stadium. California spent $321 million for a stadium overhaul.

The arms race will only escalate with the latest television deals. Lately, upscale housing for athletes has become the latest weapon. In the Big 12, Kansas is building a $17.5 million privately funded apartment complex. In July, Oklahoma opened Headington Hall, a $75 million structure that sits next to the Sooners' stadium. A 75-seat theater is included.

"Right now we're in the process of figuring out all of our needs," Luck said. "A good bit will go to football and basketball. It will go toward the stadium and Coliseum.

"But then we have the Olympic sports. There's the Shell Building. We have to decide what to do with Hawley Field with the new stadium being built. The Natatorium hasn't been upgraded since it was built. We need new locker rooms. We have more projects than money."

Luck was meeting with architects on Thursday in regard to the new baseball stadium. Ground has been broken for the University Town Centre project, which will cost an estimated $16-18 million. That cost is not included in the bond of which Luck speaks. That money was secured via a Tax Increment Financing bill approved by the state legislature. The plan there is to have the stadium ready by 2015.

Luck said the bond was proposed after projecting what it will cost to run WVU's athletic department for 12 years.

"We looked at our budgets, expected salaries and contingencies for unexpected events and subtracted that," said the athletic director. "We have four revenue streams: ticket sales, [Mountaineer Athletic Club] donations, TV and IMG. The first two are not guaranteed.

"The money from TV and IMG, though, is guaranteed by contract. The bulk of the money is from Big 12 TV. We sat down with the financial people downtown and they said, 'We think this makes sense.' "

Luck said the athletic department has secured bonds in the past, but "not to this magnitude."

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Neither football nor men's basketball has exactly been flying high at WVU lately. What has, however, caught Luck's attention is the success of the Mountaineer women's basketball team. It is ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll.

"You know, I was talking to [coach] Mike Carey about it," said the athletic director. "He told me that in one of his current recruiting classes WVU is among the top three [school choices] of six or eight of the nation's top recruits. He said it's all because of the move to the Big 12.

"That's what all of our teams need to do. Mike said in the past WVU might be in the top three of maybe one top recruit. He said we've never been able to recruit like this. He said they might have to change how they recruit."

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

 

January 27, 2014

 

 
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