May 5, 2016
Four years ago, in the summer of 2012 when we first joined the Big 12 Conference, it marked a new era for intercollegiate athletics at West Virginia University. It represented an opportunity for WVU to align itself with nine other prestigious academic and athletic institutions, not only benefitting the athletic department, but also the University, our community and state.
The far-reaching benefits of being affiliated with some of the finest schools in the country are quite obvious, as are the tremendous challenges the Mountaineers now face on a yearly basis. In the past, the resources and facilities we had to work with were, generally speaking, on par with our conference competitors.
But that immediately changed when we joined the Big 12.
Consequently, the decision was made to embark upon an ambitious capital improvement program encompassing all 18 of our athletic programs and totaling more than $125 million – so far.
Significant enhancements have already been made to Milan Puskar Stadium, from a new weight room at the Puskar Center to a new outdoor practice facility, the removal of the field’s crown and the current concourse renovations taking place with the goal of significantly improving the fan experience at home football games.
Concourse improvements are also now underway at the WVU Coliseum, and soon, ground will be broken on a new Olympic Sports training facility that will be located in front of the Shell Building. In the meantime, a second phase of Coliseum improvements designed to bring our nearly 50-year-old basketball arena in line with our competitors is now in the planning stages.
The capital projects we have underway are unprecedented in the 125-year history of WVU athletics, which, incidentally, also includes the initial construction of the Coliseum in the late 1960s and Mountaineer Field a decade later.
Yet, unlike the construction of the WVU Coliseum and Mountaineer Field, what is happening right now is being funded primarily through bonds and private contributions, meaning no state tax-payer dollars are being used to finance these vital projects.
Everything we’re doing now in the Big 12, from the demands placed on our student-athletes in the classroom to the playing field, to the facilities we need to continue to attract the very best and brightest in the future, is requiring a little more from everyone in our athletic department – a little more from our student-athletes, a little more from our outstanding coaching staffs and talented administrators, and a little more from our hard-working and dedicated support personnel.
We are putting the finishing touches on another outstanding year of athletic competition. The rifle team won yet another national championship, the women’s soccer team reached the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals for the second time under coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, men’s basketball had its second consecutive Top 20 season under coach Bob Huggins, Mike Carey’s women’s basketball program returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2016, Dana Holgorsen’s football program is coming off a bowl victory and our other Olympic sports continue to make significant progress, which I find very encouraging.
Our coaches continue to recruit and develop All-American and professional athletes at an unprecedented level, while also maintaining the high academic standards that President Gee values so greatly here at West Virginia University.
Our recent Academic Progress Rate scores continue to be very solid, including two programs – men’s basketball and rowing – with perfect 1,000 scores. There were 287 student-athletes who achieved at least a 3.0 grade-point average during the fall semester, and 116 more (so far) have been recognized on regional and national academic teams throughout the year, or close to one-fifth of our total number of student-athletes.
Next week, 69 student-athletes will be putting on their caps and gowns and going through graduation ceremonies, which is always a special time at any university.
All of these numbers are impressive. And, of equal importance to me, as someone who came from a compliance background, is our department’s determination to play by the rules.
Indeed, there are many great things happening right now in our athletic department, and I’m confident we are positioning ourselves to do even greater things in the near future. We’re doing so by asking our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and support personnel to do just a little bit more.
Hopefully, you can too.
Let’s Go Mountaineers!