With the conference realignment issue now firmly in the rearview mirror for West Virginia University Athletic Director Oliver Luck, the man guiding the athletic future of the Mountaineers can look toward other items on his agenda. While all sports will get a review at what improvements are needed to fit in nicely with the Big 12 Conference, items with football will remain high priority in Luck’s eyes and certainly those of the fans.
As the football program continues to be the financial fuel driving the athletic engine, short- and long-term planning will continue to be at the forefront of the aforementioned agenda. Already, Luck is looking at several projects – some high profile, some low-profile, and all he believes are necessary.
The most exciting of the projects Luck mentioned is likely the one the furthest out and perhaps the one that could get bumped. However, Luck said he envisions it happening and discussions he said have taken place in the area where the majority of WVU's fans enter the Mountaineer Field.
The north side of the stadium, where most enter from the parking lot of Ruby Memorial, could see the starkest change in the next decade, Luck said. The concept being looked at could create “a party deck” for the WVU fan base.
“What we’re looking at would almost create a party deck. Right now you walk in and kind of walk up to Touchdown Terrace,” Luck said. “We’re thinking of kind of taking a deck and putting it out, which would create some space underneath. We don’t have any kitchen space to cook and aid the concessionaires. Also, those trucks that are used for the broadcasts, we’d like to get those underground so to speak because we need to create some additional space.”
Luck emphasized that planning is long term and that it may take up to 10 years to get there. He said the party decks would create kitchen space, restroom space and more parking spaces. He said having parking is critical to any future planning involving WVU’s football program.
“We have to continue to look at parking and access,” Luck said. “The hospital is in the middle of a fight with Mon General, but they’re planning on building a 10-story tower right there so the parking is slowly dwindling.”
Among the top items being discussed in the short term involve changes to the Milan Puskar Center, where Mountaineer football players and coaches spend the bulk of their off-field time. While the facility has seen a number of renovations since constructed with $3 million in private funding in 1980, Luck said some of the building is pretty much in the original shape. That, he said, will be one change most in the public won’t see.
“(It) needs some upgrades, including meeting rooms and things like the coaches offices that we have to do some work on. That (part of the) building hasn’t really been changed since it was built in 1980 or thereabouts,” Luck said about a project that he discussed with other school officials as recently as Thursday.
One area that is targeted for improvements will be noticed when it takes place. And that involves upgrades to the concourse areas on the east and west sides.
Anyone that attended a football game this past year noticed, particularly at halftime, massive crowds in both concourses. Along with lengthy waits in line, there were also congestion problems for individuals looking to get to restrooms, or go from one section of the stadium to another. Larger crowds and, Luck believes, the new policy of not issuing pass-outs to return to the stadium once entering, may have led to the backups in the concourses.
“With the west and the east concourse, we need to get more space, especially now that there’s the no more pass-out policy. At halftime fans want to get a soda or a beer, and the concourses are jammed whenever you walk past,” Luck said. “We’re looking at some plans to expand the concourse and move some of those buildings out further.”
Another concourse problem is limited almost exclusively to the west side. According to luck, the soil on that side is enriched with pyrite and it has led to issues that need to be corrected.
“On the west side, particularly, the concourse has been buckling over the years and it’s caused problems with the pipes, the doors aren’t working properly and things like that,” he said.
One thing that could happen is another stadium expansion. Right now, that’s not in the plans, but it could change. A lot of what happens there will be determined by the fan participation – both those coming from the Big 12 schools as well as those who follow the Mountaineers.
“We can add if needed. I don’t want to build a church for Easter Sunday. I think we want to look at this year and probably next year when we have cycled through each visiting team coming here and see what the fan’s response is for the team’s coming here,” Luck said. “ Right now, our season tickets are through the roof and that’s good. We want to make sure it’s consistent.”
The current stadium capacity is 60,000.
Editor's Note: Photo of Oliver Luck from Thursday evening's Benedum Fellows banquet at the Bridgeport Convention Center taken by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com.
Here is a link to another story that ran Monday, July 16, on Connect-Bridgeport involving Oliver Luck: