Rifle to be fully funded in fall
WVU AD Oliver Luck makes scholarship commitment to school’s most successful program
Published: Monday, March 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 00:03
The 14-time national champion West Virginia rifle team will be fully funded starting in the fall, Athletic Director Oliver Luck confirmed on Monday.
The program will have financial aid for 3.6 student-athletes starting in the fall, which is the NCAA maximum for rifle. WVU had previously funded 3.43 scholarships, which would make the additional funding less than $10,000, Luck said.
The team will still continue to function with a similar budget of around $200,000 for the time being, as it has not limited the program from succeeding at the highest level, Luck said.
But, the Athletic Department has made an emphasis to increase fundraising to allow for budget increases in the future. In fact, Luck said the Athletic Department has gained multiple seven-figure donations for the rifle program.
"Given the recent history of the program and how successful it has been, we wanted to make sure the rifle team gets the same type of support that all the other student-athletes do," Luck said. "There are a number of things we're doing to make sure the rifle program is treated like our other programs."
Since being brought back from disbandment in 2003, the rifle program has been funded by $100,000 annually from the West Virginia State Legislature and alternate fundraising since 2004, when the program was brought back. The Athletic Department will continue to use that money in the future, Luck said.
"It was something that (Luck) was pretty well aware of when he came here. It's definitely something that I sat down and spoke to him about pretty early on," said WVU rifle coach Jon Hammond. "He pretty much made the commitment right away. The team needs to be supported just like any other team here at WVU, and he's done a good job of doing that."
When speaking at fundraising events, Luck said a surprising number of people were worried about the stability of the rifle program.
"Rifle needs to be one of our premiere programs, to be quite honest with you, given how important rifle and the second amendment are to West Virginia," Luck said. "The Mountaineer carries a gun and shoots it off. As long as that's the case, we're going to continue to support rifle 100 percent."
The rifle team, which will try for a record 15th national championship this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ga., has felt the effects of not having a full budget in Hammond's last five years as head coach.
He said the team has struggled to stay at the sport's highest level in terms of travel budget, recruiting budget, equipment and other resources.
"I've told them, ‘we might not be able to travel to Alaska the past few years' or ‘we might not have been able to spend the extra money on equipment, but we've done our best,'" Hammond said. "It's been a limit, but we've tried to be conscious of what we have and spend our money in the best way possible."
Luck said he doesn't want logistics to affect how teams perform. He added the Athletic Department doesn't want to spend more money than it has to, either.
Hammond said his shooters joked with him at times for having to watch how he spent the team's money.
That's about to change.
"We've been quite a bit below in terms of budget compared to our competitors," Hammond said. "Like any sport, if you're one of the top teams, you have to continue to try to compete with those top teams. We have to compete recruiting-wise and travel-wise. We have to invest in the program to keep up with the Kentucky's and the Alaska's and the other teams that have been spending more than us in the last few years."
Hammond said he would like to have a full-time graduate assistant position and make more road trips in the future.
Despite the disadvantages, Hammond, who was on WVU's team in 2003 when it was cut, has been able to continue to recruit top talent and keep up with the top competition.
"It's been a long journey over the last five years. But, it's been fun. Recruiting has been the key to building a strong team," Hammond said. "Then, just working every day in the range and having a good group of kids that want to work hard and have fun."
WVU's rifle program is not the only non-fully funded sport at the University. The baseball and men's swimming teams are not, either, but Luck said it could be a possibility in the future.