Teeing It Up

West Virginia's decision to add men's golf to its roster of varsity sports for the 2015-16 season was based on a wide range of factors, according to Director of Athletics Oliver Luck.

While the decision to add the sport came as no surprise, Luck said that WVU looked at several different possibilities and compared them over a range of metrics. Among the sports considered were men's cross country, men's tennis and men's track. The factors evaluated included financial impact, Title IX, fund raising potential, and infrastructure requirements, among others.

"We put together a group that looked at a number of sports that were previously at WVU," Luck said in announcing the choice of men's golf. "In today's college sports environment, the opportunity doesn't come along often to add a men's sport."

In agreeing to join the Big 12 a year ago, West Virginia promised to add at least one men's sport to bring it into minimum compliance levels. League bylaws require each school to field at least six men's and women's sports. WVU now features football, basketball, baseball, wrestling,swimming and golf on the men's side. (Soccer and rifle do not compete in the Big 12, which does not sponsor a championship in those sports.)

Luck said that golf was strong in the area of potential fundraising, infrastructure and Title IX. With just 4.5 scholarships given, the impact of men's golf on the Title IX equation, which is supposed to guarantee equitable scholarship sports opportunities for women, will not be a large one. WVU will not offer the full 4.5 scholarships right off the bat, but instead will build up to the maximum by the 2017-18 season. Initially, West Virginia will give out 1.5 scholarships for the initial season. Those scholarships can be divided among multiple players.

While that would seem to put WVU at an initial competitive disadvantage, Luck and Associate Athletic Director Terri Howes believe it will work to the program's advantage.

"It eases the financial burden, and we probably have a lot of good golfers that are already on campus," Luck said. We have a good club program in place. In 2014-15, we might do some open tournaments to help identify those players. We talked to several other schools about it, and they advised us this was the best way to do it. We are committed to offering the full allotment of scholarships for the program."

"This also gives the coach an opportunity to identify good walk-ons and figure out who the scholarships [will go to]," Howes added. This is the way we did it when we started up crew and women's soccer."

Fundraising was also a key component, with backers already verbally committing to more than $1.5 million in donations for operations and scholarship endowments. The cost of running the program is expected to be approximately $257,000 per year, once scholarships are fully funded. That falls at the low end of the average of $250-300,000 spent yearly by several schools that are competitive on the NCAA level, according to Luck.

RIFLE REPORTS

Scholarship totals and infrastructure certainly worked against men's track. In that sport, 11 scholarships are provided, and WVU's current track is in woeful shape, and lacks almost all of the necessities for conducting attractive meets. Luck responded to a question about golf being added "for the big contributors" by noting that the addition was being done "for the benefit of the student athlete." He also cited statistics found in the addition study that showed golf had far more participation that cross country and some of the other sports studied.

* * *

Luck indicated his willingness to have the team host tournaments at different golf venues around the state. On the NCAA level, golf is played in both the fall and the spring, with the first season revolving around local and regional invitational tournaments. The spring is more geared to conference and NCAA play.

"I can't imagine that we wouldn't [play at courses around the state]," Luck said.

Howes added that WVU will not play or travel to other Big 12 schools during the fall, instead playing at events (and hopefully hosting one of their own) at courses in the east and mid-Atlantic. WVU will travel to the host of the Big 12 tournament in the spring each year.

* * *

While resumes and expressions of interest have been received for the golf coaching position, Luck said those have not been looked at yet. Howes said the position would likely be advertised in January of 2104. The team will have one coach and one graduate assistant.

One potential coach that has been mentioned is Bob Friend, the director of golf operations at Pikewood National Golf Club.

* * *

WVU previously offered golf as a men's sport from 1933-1982.

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