During my time as president of West Virginia University, our quarterback was a young man named Oliver Luck.
Oliver was more than just a promising athlete for the Mountaineers. He represented what college athletics was supposed to be about: spirited, fair competition, and opportunity through graduation. He spent four years as the leader of our football team, and I was proud to see him leave Morgantown with a diploma.
Knowing Oliver, I can’t say I was as shocked as the rest of the football world when his son, Andrew, recently said no to being the potential first pick in the National Football League draft and no to a multimillion dollar contract.
Both of these rewards were almost guaranteed after Andrew Luck led Stanford to a 12-1 record this season and played brilliantly in a win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. He also finished second in this year’s Heisman Trophy race to Cam Newton, the multitalented quarterback from Auburn University, and most people would have understood if he decided to enter the draft.
But Andrew wanted to return to campus in California and complete his degree in architectural design. And he wanted to complete his college career with the young men he respected most.
“Andrew does what he thinks is right,” Oliver told me. “There is a lot of loyalty in him.”
True to his low-key nature, Andrew issued a one-sentence statement. “I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012,” he said. No more, no less.
With just a few words Andrew made a powerful statement, one that caught the universal eye of college football and the NFL. It is a statement that is all too rare these days, when Division I basketball teams rent freshmen for a semester and many prominent collegiate athletes are more concerned about where they will be next taking their talents, rather than how well they will do on their next biology test.
Like his son, Oliver Luck let his actions do most of the talking for him at West Virginia, where he was an academic All-American and a Rhodes Scholar finalist. “There is always room for achievement in the classroom and on the playing field,” he said to the Rhodes Committee that I chaired.
After his graduation, Oliver played four seasons for the Houston Oilers, and once his playing days were over he earned a law degree with honors from the University of Texas.
Oliver went on to become the athletic director at WVU, where he works to attract front-line athletes who want to win, to pay the academic price and to graduate. He wants them to focus on what it means to be a student-athlete and the value therein.
Oliver always wanted a career in sports management and administration and he was determined to be ready when his opportunity arose. Since his retirement from the NFL, Oliver has lived his dream, serving as CEO of the Houston Sports Authority and president of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo before returning to West Virginia.
Despite his surname, Oliver Luck’s success was not accidental. It was due to good choices and hard work.
Now it appears that these qualities, central to the Luck persona, have rubbed off on his famous son. And that’s a good thing — for Andrew, for college football and for every student-athlete who will one day face a similar choice.
— Gene A. Budig is a distinguished professor at the College Board in New York and a former chancellor or college president at Kansas University, Illinois State University and West Virginia University. He also served as president of the American League from 1994 to 2000.