Essay
9:54 pm
Thu July 3, 2014

WVU Athletic Director Takes Issue With Professor's Opinion on Stadium Renovations

There is another point of view as to whether West Virginia University should spend millions of dollars to fix up its football stadium than the one expressed by visiting law professor Michael Blumenthal in his essay for West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Inside Appalachia.

Blumenthal questions whether such an outlay is appropriate for an institution of higher learning. Needless to say, as athletic director at West Virginia University, I believe it is – and for reasons that are both practical and educational.

Oliver Luck
Oliver Luck

Addressing education first: There is no argument that West Virginia University's first responsibility is to provide the best and broadest educational experience possible for its students. It is the first part of our land-grant mission of teaching, research and service.

For many current and potential students, high-quality intercollegiate athletics are a key part of that experience. Successful athletic programs also provide an important touchstone for alumni and help keep them connected to their alma mater, a connection which can result in increased support for the academic mission.

And high-profile athletic programs provide a platform and audience the University can use to draw attention to the stellar academics of the institution.

But being successful requires first-rate facilities, and that is where the practical side comes in.

Just within the past couple of weeks our department announced investments of more than $100 million to renovate specific areas at Milan Puskar Stadium, the WVU Coliseum and the Shell Building. This money will come from $75 million in bonds and $25 million from private philanthropy.

All three structures are at an age where renovations and upgrades are required.

The Coliseum is 44 years old, Milan Puskar Stadium is 34 and the Shell Building is 33. We plan to take advantage in the departure of the College of Physical Activity and Sports Science to its own building this coming fall to renovate the Coliseum and Shell Building – which by the way has essentially been untouched since it was built. We also plan number of other smaller projects, such as a new locker room at Dlesk Soccer Stadium and re-purposing the existing baseball park, Hawley Field.

Historically, WVU has maintained its facilities extraordinarily well and I give kudos to both the Facilities Department as well as Athletic department employees. However, there comes a time when modernization is called for and that time is now. It would be negligent on our part to not invest significantly in renovating and upgrading our athletic infrastructure, particularly given that athletics is a self-sufficient auxiliary unit.

We will be able to pay for these improvements in large part due to the guaranteed payments we will receive during the next decade from both the Big 12 Conference and IMG College. These payments are substantially higher than in years past.

These projects have been fully reviewed and approved by a number of different groups – all with some oversight responsibility for the complete mission of WVU; the West Virginia University Planning Committee, the Board of Governors as well as the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission studied our mid- and long-term revenue and expense projections and determined that we were on solid ground with our plans to repay the bond.

It is also important to remember that while the Athletic Department is a integral part of the University experience, it is a self-supporting auxiliary unit and as such does not pull funding from the University's core mission. All these costs are funded from Athletic Department-generated revenues.

Significant capital expenditures are taking place all over Morgantown and Monongalia County, not all of which are directly tied to the University. That is just one of the reasons it is such a vibrant and dynamic community.

We would be shirking our duty as a part of that community to do anything less than provide the best athletic program possible, and that means keeping our facilities in first-rate shape.

Oliver Luck is Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at West Virginia University.

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