ShareThis Page
Tim Benz: Testing his Luck — West Virginia alum named XFL commissioner |

Tim Benz: Testing his Luck — West Virginia alum named XFL commissioner

Tim Benz
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2015, file photo, Oliver Luck speaks with members of the media at the NCAA Convention in Oxon, Md. Former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck is leaving his high-ranking position at the NCAA to become commissioner of the XFL, the second edition of professional wrestling mogul Vince McMahon's football league.

For the last three-and-a-half years, Oliver Luck has worked as the NCAA’s executive vice president for regulatory affairs. His job — as described in a press release when he was hired in 2014 — was to “bring the national office regulatory functions — academic and membership affairs, the eligibility center and enforcement — under one umbrella.”

He left that job this week to take the post as commissioner of the relaunched XFL.

A cynic might ask, “So, wait a minute. The job of overseeing regulations, eligibility and enforcement within the NCAA is so difficult, murky and seedy that this guy would rather take on the task of overseeing a whole new football league launched by WWE mogul Vince McMahon? After it flopped the first time?”

Well, I’m a cynic. So that’s what I asked Luck Tuesday afternoon.

“The wheels of progress grind slowly in Indianapolis,” said Luck with a laugh. “It doesn’t reflect at all any disappointment I had with the NCAA. I think college athletics is in a very healthy spot. It has its challenges, but it is in a very healthy spot.”

The former West Virginia quarterback and athletic director said he made the job change because he has “an entrepreneurial bent.”

I guess if Luck likes the challenge of building a business — despite dealing with “grinding wheels” — then, to quote McMahon:

“This Is The XFL!”

McMahon infamously tried and failed to make the XFL a successful secondary pro football league before. The first foray lasted all of one season before going belly up at the end of the inaugural 2001 campaign.

Luck also has experience running football teams and a football league that wasn’t blessed with the magical “NFL” logo.

He was general manager of the fledgling Frankfurt Galaxy and then the Rhein Fire — two of the more successful clubs of the World League of American football. He then oversaw the rebranding of the WLAF into NFL Europe as league president from 1995-2000. It stayed afloat for seven years after he left that job.

Plus, he helped get the Houston Dynamo soccer team off the ground in 2005. So the hurdles of igniting something new are not foreign to Luck.

Come to think of it, Luck’s biggest issue with the XFL might be that it isn’t new. America saw it once before, and it was rejected. In some cases, rebooting might be more difficult than creating.

Luck doesn’t have to open minds about this brand. He has the more challenging task of trying to change them, as he did in Europe.

In this case that starts with quality of play. Because after the cheerleaders, wrestling announcers and the goofy “opening scramble” to determine possession, the level of football in the XFL simply wasn’t good.

“We are going to be singularly focused over the next number of months in trying to make sure that we do we everything we possibly can so that when we launch in 2020, we’ve got a high quality of play,” Luck said. “Quality players. Quality coaches. A quality experience.”

To be honest, the previous XFL wasn’t bereft of experienced coaches. As examples, Galen Hall, Gerry DiNardo, Ron Meyer and Rusty Tillman had been — or eventually became — NFL or NCAA head coaches or coordinators.

But when it comes to decent players? Well, after Tommy Maddox the three best quarterbacks in the league were Mike Pawlawski, Jim Druckenmiller and Casey Weldon. Even in the NFL last year, Tom Savage started seven games.


Luck said the XFL plans on having eight teams, 10 games, at 45 players apiece, plus a taxi squad. He seems to think there are more quality players available than in 2001 to stock that pool.

“I’ve been impressed with the quality and the volume of players coming out of the college ranks,” Luck said. “There’s a more than adequate player pool that’s available.”

Luck suggested the depth of talent available beyond the major D-I football institutions has improved. He said it’s going to be up to the league to better identify those players than was perhaps the case 17 years ago.

As we’ve discussed here in the past, the XFL has spent a lot of its efforts relaunching by trying to capitalize on a perceived down cycle of popularity for the NFL.

But telling the public why you are different only lasts so long. At some point, you have to convince the public why you actually are good enough to watch.

For the last half century or so, no other American football league has done that successfully for an extended period. If XFL 2020 is to do so, it’d be a first.

But it won’t be the first time Luck has had to climb such a hill.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.