Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer who was previously head of the N.F.L.’s international division, recalled watching Oliver Luck, at the time in charge of N.F.L. Europe, at work in the 1990s in Germany.
“There was no better feeling I had than meeting with mayors and civic leaders and having Oliver Luck, this all-American football player from West Virginia and Houston, with that toothy grin, speaking German with a perfect accent,” Garber said.
Luck, whose mother was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, will require all his powers of translation as he leaves his job as West Virginia’s athletic director and begins his new one as a top executive at the N.C.A.A.
On Thursday, at the annual N.C.A.A. convention, held this year just across the Potomac River from Washington, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, introduced Luck as “our newest employee.”
The five most prominent conferences, acting with the governing autonomy the N.C.A.A. granted them in August, are expected Saturday to approve a measure that will provide athletes with the full cost of attendance, which is several thousand dollars higher than typical scholarships.
It may fall above all to Luck, as executive vice president for regulatory affairs, to negotiate the myriad competing interests in intercollegiate athletics. There are dozens of conferences across three divisions; a multitude of sports; university presidents, athletic directors and athletes; and even the N.C.A.A. itself, which has been accused of being out of touch with members’ concerns and the new realities of college sports, some of which generate billions of dollars.
“He brings to us wide-ranging, hands-on experience from across athletic, academic and business worlds,” Emmert said in a statement last month, when the move was announced.
Luck, 54, said that before he agreed to take the job, Emmert told him, “The next 36 to 48 months will be a defining time period for intercollegiate athletics.”
Luck’s résumé is extensive: college and professional athlete; Rhodes Scholar finalist; lawyer; professional sports executive; university trustee; athletic director; and member of the College Football Playoff’s selection committee.
He also is a sports parent. His older daughter, Mary Ellen, played women’s volleyball at Stanford and majored in biology. His younger son, Addison, is a standout high school soccer player who is expected to compete in college.
It was his older son, though, who perhaps had the biggest impact on his decision to take a job with the N.C.A.A., which is headquartered in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck, who played at Stanford and majored in architecture before being selected No. 1 over all in the N.F.L. draft, is now the star quarterbackfor the Indianapolis Colts. The team plays the New England Patriots in Sunday’s A.F.C. championship game.
That experience, Oliver Luck said, has made him especially sensitive to athletes’ issues. He recalled Andrew’s missing nearly a week of classes at the beginning of one semester because he was in Miami playing Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Although, Luck added, “I don’t think he will do that for a little while.”
During an interview in Dallas before the College Football Playoff national championship game Monday, Luck — trim, tan and silver-haired — articulated a greater amenability to professionalization than is typical for an N.C.A.A. executive. Last month, Luck made waves by saying athletes had a “fundamental right” to their names, images and likenesses, even though the N.C.A.A. prevents athletes from cashing in on them. A federal judge ruled in the Ed O’Bannon case in August that this was a violation of antitrust law.
“Meryl Streep didn’t sign away her name if she got a scholarship to Yale Drama School,” Luck said. “Musicians perform. You can write software, or for college newspapers.”
He added: “Is it a free market? Do we let a kid sell his name, image and likeness? Do we allow the schools to buy them, or reimburse a student-athlete for them?”
“I don’t have the answers,” he said, “but I do believe it’s worthy of a very strong debate.”
Luck is essentially replacing the recently departed chief operating officer Jim Isch, who was viewed as Emmert’s right-hand man. Luck was sought out to provide the voice of an athletic director — a “practitioner,” in N.C.A.A. argot — at an association dominated by university presidents, including leaders like Emmert, who was the president of the University of Washington and the chancellor of Louisiana State University, and his predecessor Myles Brand, who had been president of the University of Oregon.
“It’s quite a significant step historically,” Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, said of Luck’s hiring. Kevin White, Duke’s athletic director, said he was pleased with the move.
“Speaking on behalf of the athletic-director community, we are excited to have a franchise operator transition to the senior management team in Indianapolis,” White said. “In particular, we’re very excited Oliver Luck has accepted the new role. His very unique background will lend itself to this environment.”