Rapid Fire Changes Define Shane Lyons’ WVU Tenure As AD

Shane Lyons

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons let loose with a soft laugh as he thought about the question that had been posed to him.

“Could you ever have imagined seven years ago, when you came to take this job in Morgantown, how different things would become so quickly?” he was asked.

“You know, sometimes we don’t have time to reflect and look back. Sometimes it makes me chuckle. The changes are dramatic. I grew up in the compliance world, and we used to tell coaches they couldn’t give players a ride. Now they’re giving them cars,” Lyons said.

This didn’t just sneak up on college football from behind. It started with restructuring conferences, a shuffle that sent West Virginia from the Big East to the Big 12.

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At the same time, there were rumblings about name, image and likeness compensation for players with the Shawne Alston case spending a few years in the courts before it was ruled upon by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.

Some saw changes coming. One such person was former WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong. Doing research this week, I came across a story I did on him when he was being inducted into the West Virginia Hall of Fame and a prophetic statement he made.

“It’s important that universities not lose track of the fact that they are an institution and intercollegiate sports are extra-curricular activities. It’s wonderful to compete at these very high levels, but let’s remain collegiate and not professional,” he said at the tie

The problem is that no one listened to Pastilong … or maybe they couldn’t, for big time college athletes were ready to share in the money that was flooding through its sports via TV, ticket sales, memorablia sales, advertising opportunities and autographing sessions.

Coaches were being paid in the millions, schools were jumping from conference to conference. Why couldn’t athletes jump from school to school? And earn some money?

The college football world we all grew up in might as well be in Red Grange and Jim Thorpe’s time.

“The world has changed,” Lyons acknowledged. “We have to continue to evolve and do it the right way and have our student-athletes capitalize off of it. A lot of good has come from these collectives and the trust (Country Roads Trust, a collective not connected to WVU formed to find opportunities for Mountaineer athletes) has been positive for our student-athletes.”

But WVU, like the other schools across the land and the NCAA itself, is still feeling its way through this amazing maze that has emerged.

“We have to identify who we are and what works best for us and move forward,” Lyons said.

NIL has been a slippery slope, with charges being leveled at some schools or coaches that they are “buying” players, which is against the rules, as is tampering.

“We are an industry that gets a lot of media attention, a lot of legal attention, there were some opportunities last year where we could have had more guardrails around NIL that were not adopted by the membership,” Lyons said.

“Now we’re circling back around and trying to get some guidelines in. I think the membership realizes we are going to have to have rules and that they could be challenged. We have to make sure we feel very comfortable that if they are challenged, we can fight them.”

A larger problem than enforcing the NIL and transfer rules is in reshaping the organization itself as the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” widens, conference affiliations change and media contracts come up for renegotiation.

West Virginia Director of Athletics Shane Lyons gets a photo of the crowd

“We’ll start talking soon around membership requirements and what Division 1 will look like in the future,” Lyons said. “We now have 351 D-1 institutions. Do the 131 football schools break out into a new subdivision and what does that look like? The benefits could look different for them than for schools that don’t have football.

“Those are all things being discussed, but there’s no crystal ball showing what it’s going to look like. I do think you’ll see a difference in the Power 5 schools for a governance standpoint and the other institutions.”

But what if you are an athletic director like Lyons who has to plan for the future? He thought he had things pretty well worked out through the 2020s, but now the whole shape of the conference is different, media contracts come up in a couple of years, recruiting has exploded, scheduling is changing as the Big 12 loses Oklahoma and Texas and adds Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU.

How do you budget? Who knows how much money will come in, how much can you afford to put out with such an uncertain future?

“It is now hard to plan. Looking beyond 2025 — the four new schools are joining the Big 12 in 2023 — and we will play as a 14-team league for two years, then Texas and Oklahoma will go to the SEC,” he said.

The media negotiations carry more weight than anything else.

“That’s a big part of our budget,” Lyons said. “We’ve had some market analysis studies done with Texas and Oklahoma leaving and the four new schools coming in and everything is telling us right now we remain (the) third top conference in the Power 5 and we intend to remain there … that goes from TV contracts to the competition we put on the field.”

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Home Page forums Rapid Fire Changes Define Shane Lyons’ WVU Tenure As AD

Home Page forums Rapid Fire Changes Define Shane Lyons’ WVU Tenure As AD