Lyons Looks At A Myriad Of Mountaineer Topics
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia’s director of athletics Shane Lyons sat on a stool in the WVU football team football, facing the assembled media.
The man who oversees Mountaineer athletics gave a state of the department address and then took questions. A myriad of topics were covered in his 58 minutes with the media, running the gamut from facilities to scheduling to student-athlete conduct.
Lyons commented on many subjects, but that’s understandable for a man who oversees 18 varsity sports teams with a total annual operating budget approaching $100 million.
- Six WVU teams were ranked in the top 20 nationally last year – football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s soccer and baseball.
“Those are just some of the things that were happening on the playing fields and playing courts last year,” noted Lyons, who is entering his third year as the A.D. at his alma mater. “Overall, 14 of the 18 teams we sponsor had overall GPAs of over 3.0, and the overall GPA for all our student-athletes was 3.15. So, we’re not only performing on the fields and courts, but we’re also performing academically, which is very important. As an athletic director, I celebrate the graduation of our student-athletes. In a couple weeks, 10 of our football players who already have their degrees will be on the field. We proud of that, and only want to improve on that.”
- The latest round of renovations to Mountaineer Field are nearing their completion. The concession stands and restrooms on the east side were torn down and then rebuilt last year, and the same was done on the west side of the stadium this year. The final touches are being done to the west side now, and they should be finished by the time of the home opener on Sept. 9. In addition, a new video board has been erected above the north endzone.
“This stadium opened in 1980, and I think the stadium looks the best it has in its history,” said Lyons, who is a 1987 WVU grad. “The widening of the concourses, the new concession stands and restrooms and all the fan amenities, it’s a great improvement. Mountaineer Field is pretty special.”
- The latest round of renovations for the football fans are nearly complete, and the Coliseum received major upgrades last year. But that doesn’t mean all the athletic facility enhancements are complete.
Football’s Puskar Center is slated to get a makeover of its own in the not-too-distant future, as a new medical center is in the works, as is renovation of the lockerroom and also the team meeting rooms and offices on the top floor.
Construction on the Mountaineer Center is slated to begin soon. Located at Mylan Park outside of Morgantown, the facility will be a community wellness center that will include a track and field venue (slated to open in the fall of 2018) and an aquatic area (scheduled to open in the spring of 2019). Owned by the Mylan Park Foundation, the WVU athletic department will be a tenant of the new $40 million facility, as West Virginia’s swimming and diving teams will move from the 45-year-old Natatorium to the new aquatic center, while the Mountaineer outdoor track and cross-country teams will soon utilize the new venues at Mylan Park.
“You have to continue to look at the future, three, five, seven years down the road,” explained Lyons. “In looking at our master plan, we’re excited about our opportunities. You read a lot about the arms race in college athletics. You can call it that, but at the same time, this is where our student-athletes train and compete. My goal is to make these first-class facilities to allow us to retain coaches and recruit the best athletes. I don’t think it’s any different from what universities are doing for the general student. I joke about the rec fields and rec facilities we had when I was a student at WVU in the ‘80s. We had Stansbury Hall. Now the Rec Center we have is state of art, and it’s great for our students. I want the same type of facilities for our student-athletes.”
When the Mountaineer Center is finished, the Natatorium and WVU’s current outdoor track will be repurposed. Lyons has mentioned in the past that he may look pulling out the swimming pool from the Natatorium and making it an arena for programs like the volleyball and wrestling teams, which currently compete in the Coliseum but don’t need a 14,000-seat venue. As for the track, Lyons is exploring a couple different options.
“We have an architect we’re going to bring over this fall to start looking what we’re going to do with the track, when that space becomes available,” he said. “It may become parking, but we’re also looking at possibly a sports performance center, where the medical area, the academic area, all those things for our Olympic sports goes into one facility. We are looking at that and then possibly tying it into the Shell Building for ease of access to use the indoor track area to train. Those are the things we are going to look at. We will make a decision by next fall.”
- Unfortunately one of the tough tasks for a college athletic director is dealing with student-athlete misconduct. Lyons said he allows coaches to handle the punishment for most incidents, though he oversees and must approve of the process.
“We all have to communicate,” he explained. “I leave the decisions up to the coach. Obviously I’m in those communications with the coach, and if I don’t think he or she has done the right thing, that’s when we communicate and make sure we’re all on the same page. But first and foremost, nothing is cookie cutter. You have to look at each incident individually. You take everything in totality, look at the big picture. That’s what we do.
“The other step that we’re completely out of is the student conduct step. We’re not involved in that, and we’re not going to be. The student-athlete is treated like a normal student there. They meet with student conduct downtown, and they handle it from there.”
- West Virginia’s future football schedule is loaded with Power 5 opponents, many of whom were old rivals. Virginia Tech (2017, 2021, 2022), Pitt (2022, 2023, 2024, 2025), Penn State (2024, 2025) and Maryland (2020, 2021) all are on future WVU football schedule. The Mountaineers also have some intriguing neutral site clashes, facing VT at FedExField this season, Tennessee in Charlotte next year and Florida State in Atlanta in 2020.
“I think the neutral site game are good for the program,” Lyons said. “Look at the excitement for the opener against Virginia Tech this year. We’ve sold out our ticket allotment, and Virginia Tech has sold out their allotment. We like these opportunities. It’s great exposure.”
- The final attendance figures for Mountaineer football have been solid in recent years. Last year’s average of 57,583 for the seven home games was the best for WVU since 2008.
But West Virginia’s season ticket sales have been in a downward trend in the last six years.
“As an athletic director, that’s a concern,” admitted Lyons. “Obviously that’s our revenue source, and that’s what we look at. Why are things flat? We’re coming off a 10-win season. It’s also a matter of building our athletic department. It’s not about just us. It’s Mountaineer nation, we’re in this together. We want those fans year in and year out.
“We’re competing against the big screen TVs at home. We continue to look at things to improve the experience – traffic patterns, fan amenities to make that experience as great as possible. I hope people don’t look at us as just the athletic department. This is West Virginia University, the state of West Virginia. We’re all in this together.”