In late 2011, the roller coaster that was NCAA conference realignment picked up another rider: West Virginia University. In October 2011, WVU accepted a bid from the Big 12 to join the conference. WVU’s acceptance of the Big 12′s invitation was made with both the university’s current needs and future goals in mind. ”Our goal really as an institution was to find what I would call a ‘big time, power conference.’ Folks at the university and in the state believed that the Big East was crumbling. We believed that with the state of demise the Big East was in during 2011, that we had to find a big time power conference where we could continue to maintain a high level of competition on a national level,” said WVU’s athletics director, Oliver Luck.
After a lawsuit was filed by WVU to escape the Big East without complying with the conference’s 27-months notice provision and a countersuit was filed by the Big East, a settlement in early 2012 paved the way for WVU’s move to the Big 12. In the fall of 2012, WVU began competition in the Big 12. Since that time, WVU has enjoyed gains from competing in the conference.
One of the biggest areas in which WVU has seen growth, is in conference revenue. In the first fiscal year that WVU was a member of the Big 12, WVU earned $10,354,499 in conference revenue. This number was up four-percent from the conference share it earned during its last fiscal year as a member of the Big East. What’s notable about this increase, is that WVU is not receiving a full share of Big 12 conference revenue. It will not receive a full share of Big 12 conference revenue until 2016-17. That WVU is able to bring in more conference revenue in the Big 12 without receiving a full conference share, signals the value of its move from the Big East to the Big 12. ”With the move to the Big 12, we have seen all of our financial metrics move forward,” Luck noted.
Another area in which WVU has seen revenue growth since moving to the Big 12, is contributions. In its first fiscal year as a member of the Big 12, WVU brought in $1,164,503.00 more contributions than it did in its last year as a member of the Big East. According to Luck, WVU set a school record for fundraising donations last year during its first year as a member of the Big 12.
While the move to the Big 12 has generated increased revenue for WVU, another move WVU made in 2011 is paying off financially. That decision–to sell beer at home football games–has brought WVU significant revenue since 2011. For the 2011 football season, WVU had a 50-50 split with its concessionaire for revenue generated from beer sales. That year, WVU earned $516,551.41 from beer sales, with the top-selling game being the Mountaineers’ game against LSU. WVU’s home game against LSU, which was attended by 62,056 people, generated $120,469.81 worth of beer sales revenue for WVU.
In moving to the Big 12 in 2012, WVU saw its beer sales revenue increase. Still sharing a 50-50 split with its concessionaire for beer sales revenue, WVU earned $632,694.58 from beer sales in 2012. What’s notable about this, is that WVU’s football attendance in 2012 was actually lower than in 2011, by an average of just under 8,000 fans per game. Yet, fans were spending more on beer in 2012 than they were in 2011.
WVU appears to be set to set another record for beer sales revenue in 2013. This year, WVU’s new contract with concessionaire Sodexo allows WVU to keep 52-percent of the revenue from beer sales. Ahead of the Iowa State game, WVU had brought in $482,377.02 in beer sales this season. In home games against Texas and Oklahoma State, WVU brought in over $100,000 in revenue from beer sales this year.
While WVU has seen areas of revenue increase since moving to the Big 12, certain expenditures have grown. One major expense in particular has increased in the move to the Big 12: Travel expenses. Travel expenses in the last year that WVU was a member of the Big East to its first year in the Big 12 increased by 36-percent, from $5,095,132.00 to $6,920,683. The increase in travel expenses for WVU is the result of competing against teams that are located further away than the school’s former Big East competitors. ”While we’ve increased our travel budget, it is not because we are flying more often, but rather, because we are flying longer,” Luck explained.
In WVU’s first two years as members of the Big 12, Luck has identified several hurdles that the athletics department must overcome. ”The biggest hurdles are two things. First, everything is new. Coaches are creatures of habit. They know the routine. Going into a new venue is interesting, but also a challenge. The second hurdle, is that by and large, the level of competition is higher in the Big 12. We need to figure out how to compete better, recruit better, coach our student-athletes better, improve their facilities and increase our coaches’ salaries, to ensure they are on par,” Luck said.
What, then, is Luck’s plan to address these issues? It is a plan that will likely be supported by WVU fans: ”My theory is we have to address all of the hurdles at once,” he said. To do that, WVU is increasing coaches’ salaries, recruiting in more areas across the nation and spending to build and improve facilities for its teams.
While WVU continues to make changes to improve its athletics programs, one thing is certain for now: The Big 12 is its home. ”I’m a believer that our university is a lot like the other public schools in the Big 12. We are a land grant institution that is a landmark school in its state. As I look at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, I see schools that are very much like ours. . . . I think that in this conference, we find ourselves at home,” Luck remarked.
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