7-ON-7 WITH OLIVER LUCK
Since the 1970s, Oliver Luck has been widely associated with athletics at most every level -- as a player, administrator, Division I athletics director and now with the NCAA. FBA Communications sat down recently with the former college and NFL quarterback to get his thoughts on the current athletics landscape.
What do your duties with the NCAA entail?
“My title is Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Strategic Partnerships which includes oversight of Academic and Membership Affairs, Enforcement and the Eligibility Center, our three regulatory units. In addition, as of January 1, 2017, I have received additional responsibilities overseeing NCAA football, our corporate partners program and our relationship with Time Warner, CBS and ESPN, three of our most important broadcast partners.”
You were a successful athletics director at your alma mater, West Virginia. What prompted you to accept the NCAA position, and how difficult was it to leave Morgantown?
“I enjoyed the five years I spent in Morgantown. West Virginia University is, of course, my alma mater and it is very special for an alumnus or alumna to be able to serve his or her alma mater. During my five years as Athletic Director, I was able to accomplish a number of my major objectives, including securing membership in an “autonomy” conference, identifying a company to exploit commercially WVU’s multi-media rights and rejuvenate the baseball program (which included building a new stadium). Despite my strong feelings for the Mountaineers I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be an EVP at the NCAA, a position that allows me to have a much broader impact on all of our student-athletes across the country. “
West Virginia was among the first, if not the first, program that sold beer at Mountaineer home football games. Other schools have followed suit, but there remains resistance in certain quarters. What were the advantages you saw in doing so, and were they any negatives?
“When I became AD, one of the first things I did was sit down with the University and City Police Chiefs as well as the State Police Captain. All three of these men were adamant that I change a so-called “pass out” policy, which allowed fans to leave the football game (usually at halftime) and then return. As you can imagine, it was common for folks to return to their tailgates and consume hard liquor. Our public safety folks were stretched very thin because they had to “man” the entrances in the second half as people returned. And there was serious binge drinking taking place.
“So, I asked the three public safety officials if they would support in-stadium beer sales if I abolished the pass-out policy. They said yes, that’s what we did and the safety and the atmosphere of the games has never been better. I really don’t see any downside at all. In fact, I believe that the vast majority of Mountaineer fans would be upset if beer (and wine) sales were stopped. It’s worked very well.”
You are viewed as someone who brings a fresh perspective to the NCAA and how it conducts itself. Do you agree or disagree with this perception?
“The majority of my time as an executive has been spent in professional sports organizations. So in that sense I suppose that I bring a “fresh” perspective on a number of issues to the NCAA and how we conduct ourselves. I think every organization can improve, and we are no exception. But, my goal is the same as everybody else in the enterprise: serve our member institutions and our student-athletes.”
You played in the NFL, led franchises in the NFL-sponsored World League and NFL Europe, ran the Houston Dynamo soccer franchise, all prior to your administrative entrance into intercollegiate athletics. How has your experience[s] in professional sports shaped your current viewpoint[s] on the issues facing the NCAA and college sports in general?
“I think that executive experience in professional sports has helped me go about my daily business with the NCAA. It’s important to pick and choose policies that the professional leagues may have that fit into our intercollegiate model. Of course, it’s also important to understand those professional policies that do not have an application to our model. All in all, I believe strongly that experience on the professional side is very helpful.”
Your son Andrew [Colts QB] has a high-profile job of his own in Indianapolis. How often are you and Andrew able to get together? Do your discussions sometimes reflect on his days as an athlete at Stanford?
“My wife and I get together with Andrew and his girlfriend an average of once or twice a week for dinner during the off-season. By contrast, we will rarely see him for dinner during the season. Our conversations sometimes include anecdotes from his four years at Stanford but typically the conversation steers clear of sports.”
You spoke in late April to the FBA annual convention. What was the main message or messages you wanted to leave, especially in terms of the NCAA and the 40-member bowl community?
“My message to the Football Bowl Association was a very positive one. The Bowls retain their importance as a significant part of the college football landscape and all of us at the NCAA national office want to ensure the continued viability and health of the bowl system. Also, the bowls provide an incredibly positive experience for our student-athletes. Having said that, I also encouraged the bowl executives to be aggressive and creative in their thinking about the future. It’s the old story – ‘if we don’t change, we die’. So, I encouraged the executives to think outside of the box.”