Old Dominion Departs CAA for Conference USA

Old Dominion basketball head coach Blaine Taylor

By Chuck Burton

Publisher/Managing Editor

College Sports Journal

 

PHILADELPHIA, PA. — The Monarchs’ reign in FCS didn’t last very long.

 

Wood Selig, Old Dominion’s athletic director, called a 2:30 PM press conference today to announce that the Monarchs would be moving to Conference USA effective July 1st, 2013.

 

With Georgia State’s move to the Sun Belt a few weeks ago, and Virginia Commonwealth’s move earlier this week to the Atlantic 10, the CAA is now left with nine members, while CAA’s football entity is reduced to eight teams for the start of the 2013 season. 

 

“While Old Dominion was not actively seeking new opportunities, the dynamic shifts happening across the country in the last few weeks brought several to our attention,” Monarch President John Broderick said, noting that there was a “new paradigm evolving in collegiate athletics”.

 

Calling it a “game changer”, Athletic director Wood Selig also added that the move would, in their minds, vault Old Dominion to become football equals athletically to the two largest FBS schools in Virginia, the University of Virgina and Virginia Tech.

 

“Football was certainly a driving consideration”, Broderick said, though he did note that football “was only one part of this”. 

 

Even in this new paradigm of college football realignment, Old Dominion’s wooing period was short.

 

In the press conference it came out that the Monarchs only discussed the possibility of looking at different conference opportunities “after the women’s Final Four”, a mere six weeks from the announcement this afternoon.

 

Even so, the speed at which things came together meant that Old Dominion needed to make some serious sacrifices.

 

Start with the $250,000 exit fee they will need to pay the CAA and the $2 million entrance fee they will need to pay Conference USA.

 

Some of these expenses are expected to be covered by expected reveune from Conference USA’s web of television deals with ESPN, CBS College Sports and Fox, estimated to deliver about $2 million per year to each school.

 

Both Broderick and Selig emphasized several times that “no student fees will be increased to pay for this move”, and also heaped praise on the largesse of several large donors, who agreed to pledge $3 million for the transition.

 

“That made a very loud and clear statement to our administration and the Board of Visitors that the people in Hampton Roads, like Old Dominion, are supporting this,” football head coach Bobby Wilder told Dave Fairbank of the Daily Press. “That’s a big factor.”

 

There’s also the matter of the 2012 season in all of the Monarchs’ sports, where, as lame ducks, those teams are not allowed to qualify for conference championships or tournaments – thanks to a rule that Old Dominion voted for 12 years ago.

 

Selig said that they would lobby the presidents to allow the Monarchs to compete for championships for the 2012 season, though it wasn’t clear if he meant for men’s basketball, football, or both.  (CAA Football, with a different set of football-only schools in play that are affiliate members, may have a different process.)

 

Selig said that the “lobbying process starts now”, though CAA commissioner Tom Yeager, in a conference call an hour later, mentioned that it would require the votes of “seven of the nine presidents” to allow the change.

 

 “Old Dominion president John Broderick informed me by phone this morning of ODU’s intentions to withdraw from the CAA and CAA Football effective July 1, 2013,” Yeager released in a statement regarding the move.  “Old Dominion’s decision is predicated on the university’s desire to reclassify to FBS Football, which requires membership in an FBS league.

 

“The CAA had an open dialogue with President Broderick and CUSA Commissioner Britton Banowsky throughout ODU’s evaluation process, but ultimately Conference USA was the desired destination.  The conference wishes the university well as it pursues these new interests.”

 

*****

 

Expansion now leaps to the top of the CAA agenda in their summer meeting, scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks.

 

“Expansion and reorganization activities will take on a little extra vigor over the next couple of weeks,” CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said in his press conference on the matter. “I can guarantee you that our commitment to our student-athletes and fans will be enhanced.”

 

Two existing members, James Madison and Delware, issued statements as well about conference affiliation that were very interesting.

 

“James Madison University is extremely proud of its comprehensive commitment to all of its student-athletes, athletic programs and fans,” their official release noted.  “The conference realignment discussion for some schools has focused on particular sports and in doing so does a disservice to the other student athletes, athletic programs and the fans.”

 

Read in the context of Old Dominion’s press conference that football was the “driving force” to their move to Conference USA, it seemed like the Dukes, who have also made their intentions known about wishing to pursue FBS football, we speaking directly to their disappointment with Old Dominion’s decision.

 

In addition, Kevin Tresolini of the Delaware News-Journal noted a news release from Delaware athletic director Bernard Muir, where he stated that “he and university president Patrick Harker “are leading an internal team that has been engaged in a thorough evaluation of the evolving conference realignments and the implications for our student-athletes and the university.”

 

“Muir would not comment beyond the statement, but The News Journal has learned high-ranking UD officials have at least discussed the possibility of moving the Blue Hens to the FBS.” Tresolini said.

 

While a study doesn’t necessarily equate to a move to FBS, it certainly doesn’t rule it out, either – and implies that the Blue Hens might also be interested in FBS sooner rather than later.

 

Towson athletic director Mike Waddell seemed to think that the key to keeping everyone in the fold is a strong strategy for getting replacements for the schools that have left.

 

.”I fully expect us to be very aggressive in expansion – and we have been,” he said.  “We started that process more than seven months ago, and there are a lot of good candidates out there.”

 

Along with the league’s high academics, Waddell noted the CAA’s recently-announced deal with NBC Sports Network to televise five CAA football games nationally, along with 12 national telecasts of basketball games and the conference championship.

 

This is on top of the league’s deals with local cable providers all up and down the Eastern seaboard with Comcast Sports Net, where there is even more television coverage.

 

“So many things are going right for this conference right now,” he said, even mentioning that becoming less of a Virginia-centric league may help the league more than people think.  “I don’t know if we’ve ever been in such a good position.  A lot of good things are going to be happening in the next 12-18 months.”

 

Still, the question is – with whom does the CAA expand?

 

Do they target elite basketball schools that currently don’t sponsor CAA-level, 63 scholarship football, such as Davidson, Boston University, UNC-Asheville, or the College of Charleston?

 

Or do they go after ambitious all-sports programs that sponsor 63-scholarship FCS-level football, such as Coastal Carolina, Stony Brook, Elon or Appalachian State?

 

There’s also the matter of geography as well.  Do Drexel, Hostra and Northeastern take kindly to replacing two Virginia trips with two or more trips to the Carolinas?  Similarly, would William and Mary or UNC-Wilmington want to make trips up to Boston and New York for league games in all sports?

 

About the only thing that’s sure is there’s a lot more candidates out there that people think – though it also remains to be seen whether the other CAA members will have the patience to hang out for that long.

 

Two existing members, James Madison and Delware, issued statements about conference affiliation that were very interesting.

 

“James Madison University is extremely proud of its comprehensive commitment to all of its student-athletes, athletic programs and fans,” their official release noted.  “The conference realignment discussion for some schools has focused on particular sports and in doing so does a disservice to the other student athletes, athletic programs and the fans.”

 

Read in the context of Old Dominion’s press conference that football was the “driving force” to their move to Conference USA, it seemed like the Dukes, who have also made their intentions known about wishing to pursue FBS football, we speaking directly to their disappointment with Old Dominion’s decision.

 

In addition, Kevin Tresolini of the Delaware News-Journal noted a news release from Delaware athletic director Bernard Muir, where he stated that “he and university president Patrick Harker “are leading an internal team that has been engaged in a thorough evaluation of the evolving conference realignments and the implications for our student-athletes and the university.”

 

“Muir would not comment beyond the statement, but The News Journal has learned high-ranking UD officials have at least discussed the possibility of moving the Blue Hens to the FBS.” Tresolini said.

 

While a study doesn’t necessarily equate to a move to FBS, it certainly doesn’t rule it out, either – and implies that the Blue Hens might also be interested in FBS sooner rather than later.

 

“I am very at ease as to where we are in the league,” Waddell said.  “I think we have a great plan moving forward.  When all the dust settles, the CAA will be stronger than it was before.”

 

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