Old Dominion leaving CAA for Conference USA

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — It only took football three years to become king at Old Dominion.

Inspired by a program that has been wildly successful on the field and among Monarchs supporters, Old Dominion announced Thursday that it is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for Conference USA, which will elevate the football program to the Bowl Subdivision level.

That ascension, university President John R. Broderick said, made the move desirable.

“Football certainly was a driving consideration is this decision, and the success of coach (Bobby) Wilder and his teams have provided us the confidence that we can make this bold step,” Broderick said at Foreman Field, where about 100 ODU supporters attended a press conference.

Their excitement merely mirrored what athletic director Wood Selig was feeling.

“Today’s announcement, simply put, is a game-changer,” he said to rousing applause.

Old Dominion has a 27-8 record in football the last three years, and made the FBS playoffs last year in its first year eligible. The Monarchs also have sold out 21 home games in a row, sold 14,300 season tickets last year and had a season-ticket waiting list of about 3,500 for a 19,800-seat stadium, senior associate athletic director Debbie Harmison White said.

Wilder welcomes the opportunity to show the football program is ready. It becomes just the third FBS-level program in the state, joining Virginia and Virginia Tech.

“The recruiting game just changed dramatically,” Wilder said, adding that his goal when he arrived was to be the third-best recruiting team in the state, and now it is to be No. 1.

Seven football assistants were out recruiting Thursday, and Wilder said they are now recruiting as a Division I program because new recruits will be playing at that level.

Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky, whose league has added six schools in the past few weeks, said the conference looked at about 40 options and had several schools express interest in joining but Old Dominion fit the profile they were seeking.

“They are a growing school in a growing market,” he said. “They have about 25,000 students and the marketplace is an expanding one. They have a great tradition of quality athletics and then they have a real great story around their football program and the reemergence of it.”

The Monarchs will leave the CAA effective July 1, 2013, and plan to get to work quickly trying to rally CAA leaders for support to allow them to compete for league championships in their lame-duck season. League bylaws disqualify them currently, but that could change.

“If the members want to change it, obviously they’ll have the opportunity to change,” CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager said on a teleconference following ODU’s formal announcement.

The CAA is the latest conference to be hit — and hit hard — by realignment.

The Monarchs are the third school to announce they are leaving the conference, and the second in three days. VCU announced Tuesday it’s heading to the Atlantic 10 this summer, and Georgia State is moving to the Sun Belt Conference, also in 2013. The league also faces the likelihood of UNC Wilmington and Towson being banned from postseason play in men’s basketball next season for NCAA Academic Progress Rate failures, and might be amenable to a bylaw change.

Without Georgia State and ODU, and barring the addition of new members, which the CAA officials say they are pursuing vigorously, only seven teams will be eligible for next year’s tournament.

“It’s kind of like a no-fault divorce, but you can sure get along after it’s done,” men’s basketball coach Blaine Taylor said. He said ODU’s inclusion in the tournament as one of the best teams in the CAA on an annual basis would benefit the tournament and its credibility.

But it’s not up to him, or anyone at ODU, if they get to play.

Georgia State and ODU do not have a vote on the matter at the league meetings scheduled next month, however, “so we need to get out on the campaign trail,” Selig said, laughing.

Leaving the CAA will be costly for Old Dominion, which will pay $2 million entry fee into Conference USA, a $250,000 exit fee to the CAA and add 22 football scholarships by the 2014 season. Selig said they will do that gradually over the next two recruiting classes.

ODU also expects its athletics budget to increase “in excess of $2.5 million,” Selig said, and boosters have already pledged $3 million in private support to help meet those expenses.

By 2018, Selig said, one or two additional sports for women also will be added.

The move will be made without an increase in student fees, Broderick said, which was among the factors he viewed as critical while the school studied the impact the change would make.

The $2.5 million increase in the athletics budget, Selig said, includes increased travel expenses.

Conference USA members include East Carolina, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, Florida International, Marshall, and UNC-Charlotte in the east, and Rice, Tulsa, North Texas, Southern Mississippi, Alabama at Birmingham, Texas at El Paso, and Texas at San Antonio further west.

Some details of ODU’s move are not yet finalized, Broderick said, including finding homes for athletic programs that Old Dominion competes in that are not offered by Conference USA. They include women’s lacrosse and field hockey, and men’s swimming and wrestling.