MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Given the protracted nature of college football scheduling, West Virginia athletics director Shane Lyons aspires to work a decade in advance. Even that’s not far enough ahead for some of his colleagues.
“I had an institution recently contact me that was looking at 2035 and 2036,” he said, “but there’s no way I’m looking that far out.”
WVU’s scheduling contracts currently stretch into 2025 when the Mountaineers host Pitt on Sept. 13. Two nonconference slots remain available that season — one of which could become another neutral-site game, the kind Lyons covets for money and exposure.
West Virginia started 2014 against Alabama in the sold-out Georgia Dome, and it has twice visited Landover, Md., for games against James Madison and BYU. Their third trip to FedEx Field promises to be more spirited, a showdown against Virginia Tech in 17 days.
In the midst of playing six neutral-site games over nine seasons, West Virginia will face Tennessee in Charlotte to start 2018 and then play Florida State in Atlanta to kick off 2020.
After that, the next neutral-site availability won’t come until 2025, and Lyons sounds hopeful of keeping WVU on the radars of game promoters.
“I think it’s overall good for the program,” Lyons said. “It goes back to branding your product. We want to be the best, and I think opening up against one of the best (teams) is something we all look forward to.”
He points to the 17,000-ticket allotments West Virginia and Virginia Tech had no trouble selling for their game on Labor Day weekend. The Sunday prime-time slot guarantees a splashy buildup on ABC and its ESPN sister networks.
“You’re going to have West Virginia plastered on a whole lot of those promotions,” said Lyons.
A future game at Bristol Speedway remains a possibility for WVU, building on the experience of 156,000 fans watching Tennessee beat Virginia Tech there last season.
The Mountaineers and Hokies play a home-and-home in 2021 and 2022, and Lyons has discussed keeping the series alive through future years.
Likewise, there’s the pursuit of more games against Pitt after the “Backyard Brawl” restarts with a four-year series in 2022. Home-and-homes against Penn State and Maryland drum up regional rivalries that are especially important to WVU fans who can’t travel to far-flung games in the Big 12 Conference.
“I even get a lot of questions about Ohio State,” Lyons said. “That’s not a traditional rivalry, but it’s (appealing) from a location standpoint.”
More from Lyons’ one-hour meeting with the media Wednesday:
On renovations at Milan Puskar Stadium: “You read a lot about the facilities arms race, and you can call it that, but this is where our student athletes train and they compete. They spend a lot of time in these facilities, and my goal is to make those first-class facilities to retain coaches, recruit the best student-athletes and have them feel that this is their home.”
No new sports: Proponents for WVU bringing back softball and men’s track will have to wait. Lyons said his strategy for the athletics department “is not by adding teams, but providing resources and the facilities to elevate all of our programs that we currently have.”
Disciplining athletes: “I leave the decisions up to the coach, though obviously I’m in communication with the coach.
If I don’t feel he or she has done the right thing, that’s when we communicate and make sure we get on the same page.
“When you’re dealing with these cases, nothing is cookie cutter,” he said. “You take everything in totality and you look at it, not just one isolated incident where there was a misstep.”