Challenges Still On The Horizon For Big 12, West Virginia As Lyons Becomes AD Chair
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Big 12 faced significant challenges over the recent years. But now that it has sealed a lucrative broadcast contract – and settled on a championship game – a host of other issues await, according to WVU Director of Athletics Shane Lyons.
Lyons is in a special position to oversee those decisions after having been named the chair of the Big 12 Athletic Director’s Council in June. As such, he will organize meetings and preside over such issues as television, scheduling, championship locations, finances and more.
“You never know what is going to come up, but it’s really now back to the normal, every day business aspect of the conference,” said Lyons, now in his third year at WVU. “It is about the conference as a whole. This year, it’s restarting the championship game and making sure that’s successful. That’ll be a big thing in the next couple of months.”
With the Big 12 bringing back the title game for the first time since 2010, and putting it in the $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the league has provided what pundits considered an important extra data point for its teams. It’s also both created another roadblock for conference members to reach the College Football Playoff and ushered in even more cash flow to the coffers.
That monetary addition – the Big 12 paid out $34.8 million to each of its 10 schools last year – has calmed the expansion talk, but not entirely squelched it.
“Expansion will always be on the burner,” Lyons said “It’s just not on the front burner right now. It’s not something we talk about each and every conference meeting.”
The primary upcoming issues are the locations of the championship sites. The Big 12 is locked into Kansas City for its men’s basketball championship through 2020, but contracts in other sports will expire soon.
“We are solidified in where we are going with men’s basketball,” Lyons said “Kansas City has been a great spot. I know those (contracted) years go on out until 2020. There has been discussion of women’s basketball, and do we try to move it from it’s current location (in Oklahoma City) to another. The years are coming up for that, so that’s something in the next 12 months that we will talk about.”
Lyons also addressed questions about West Virginia’s desire to add to its 17 varsity sports. The Mountaineers, for example, are among three Big 12 schools without a softball program, and also don’t compete in men’s tennis, men’s track and field or equestrian. WVU does field a men’s soccer program, which plays in the Mid-American Conference because the Big 12 does not sponsor the sport.
“It is not financially and economically feasible at this time to be looking at adding a sport,” Lyons said. “If I am looking to add a sport, I want to be sure it’s going to be a sport that is going to compete at a very high level. And by adding a sport, it’s very costly from a scholarship standpoint to a coaching standpoint to travel. If you look at it, you are looking at approximately $1-1.5 million in the budget. And that’s not even counting the facility. That’s just to operate it. And it’s a non-revenue sport, so it’s not something that’s a return on your investment.
“So I am looking at things now where I think the better approach, instead of adding sports, is to invest in the programs we currently have to keep them at the top. The baseballs, women’s soccer, wrestling, gymnastics on down to track and field and tennis. Invest in those programs and let them climb instead of adding more.”
BlueGoldNews.com will have more from our exclusive interview session with WVU Director of Athletics Shane Lyons over the coming days. Check back for more, including detailed discussions of television rights, student attendance, and retaining top-shelf coaches in today’s collegiate market.