WVU's Luck: 'Never say never'
HUNTINGTON -- If you're hoping to see West Virginia University and Marshall University face each other on the football field again, it could happen.
Just don't hold your breath waiting.
"You never say never," said Mountaineers athletic director Oliver Luck, who was in Huntington Tuesday for a reception for WVU fans and alumni at the Frederick Building on 4th Avenue.
However, Luck said the reality is that WVU is already building its non-conference schedule into the 2020s, as is Marshall, and a meeting between the two is not anywhere on the books at present.
"I'm sure somewhere down the road we'll play Marshall in football again, but we have no plans to do that right now," Luck said.
West Virginia left the crumbling Big East for the Big 12 by the beginning of the 2012 football season, and defeated Marshall 69-34 on Sept. 1, 2012 in the final "Friends of Coal Bowl," which concluded a seven-game contracted series that came about at the urging of the state legislature.
After joining the Big 12, West Virginia went from five non-conference games to three.
Being part of the Big 12, which is comprised mostly of schools from Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma, put the Mountaineers in one of the five "power conferences," which will be part of the new college football playoff format beginning in the 2014-15 season.
That, Luck argued, puts more pressure on WVU when it comes to strength of schedule, making Marshall, a member of Conference USA, a less attractive non-conference game.
"We've got Virginia Tech back on the schedule, we've got Penn State back on the schedule, we just have to finalize the years," Luck said. "We're working to get Pitt back on the schedule. There are a lot of schools we'd like to get on the schedule that are part of that power five group.
"I think you'll find more and more of those so-called 'power five' schools playing games amongst themselves. Schools that aren't in that group, it's going to be harder to grab those marquee games."
Steve Douglas, president and CEO of the West Virginia Alumni Association, said he would love to see the two universities meet up every year in football.
"Those loyalties to the two schools are undying," Douglas said. "Would we like to schedule it every year? Yes. I'm sure (Luck) will tell you that's a difficult thing."
But Douglas pointed to the Capital Classic basketball series, which takes place each year in the capital city of Charleston, as an example of the two schools being able to compete.
"It's something that is economically successful, and I continue to be an advocate of playing that game in the state capital," Douglas said. "It gives both fan bases a chance to come out and fill that arena with 13,000 people. It's a special, special thing."
The Mountaineers won all seven contests against the Thundering Herd during the Friends of Coal football series.
After joining a stronger conference, the Mountaineers got a rude awakening of their own.
WVU went 7-6 in 2012, including a 4-5 record in the Big 12. Heisman Trophy hype for all-time passing leader Geno Smith fizzled by mid-season, and the Mountaineers were drubbed by former Big East foe Syracuse, 38-14, in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29, 2012.
"We learned a lot last year," Luck said. "Some of our coaches had experience there; (mens basketball) coach Bob Huggins had spent a year at Kansas State, and (head football coach) Dana Holgorsen had spent a couple of years at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. But most of our coaches hadn't experienced anything like it. It was an eye-opener."
One of the lessons learned across the board, in every sport, is the Big 12 is a deep conference, Luck said.
"Our coaches and our student-athletes learned that every week they have to bring their A game, because that's the type of competition we're facing," he said. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, because it's forcing us to raise our game."