Reports are surfacing today that West Virginia will meet James Madison at FedEx Field on September 15, 2012. This will be a "home" game for the Mountaineers, with a guarantee of above $2 million.
On its face, it seems a curious decision. The Mountaineers, who normally make around $2 million per home date at Mountaineer Field, are leaving their friendly confines for not a whole lot more in return. In fact, it's expected that James Madison (located just down I-81 in Harrisonburg, VA) will bring quite a few fans themselves, seeing as how they've negotiated up to $150,000 in attendance incentives (they're guaranteed $350,000, of which none will come from WVU's take).
But, only considering the face of any Oliver Luck decision would be foolish. If the short Luck era has taught us anything, it's that he's much more concerned with the big picture of Mountaineer athletics. West Virginia is in a minor market in a minor state, at least in the eyes of college football's deal makers. Nothing Luck or the athletic department can do can possibly change that.
What he can do is expand West Virginia's footprint. The first step of that expansion was the hiring of Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen's brand of exciting football is not only meant to win games, but increase the appeal of Mountaineer football across the country. And once you have an exciting product, you can take that show on the road. FedEx Field, located outside Washington, DC, is a natural location because of the huge amount of WVU alumni in the area. Considering that no team truly controls the market (Maryland and Virginia Tech are the strongest claims), you have an opportunity for West Virginia to show that their appeal extends far from the borders of a state with just 1.8 million residents.
In the age of continuing conference upheaval, anything West Virginia can do to increase their appeal nationally has to be at the top of Luck's to-do list. If that means trading a true home date for a guarantee only slightly above minimum but in a pro stadium and marquee market, then so be it. As Luck is sure to be thinking, the long-term gain to the Mountaineer program is worth the short-term sacrifice.