NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- Billy Mann has been watching Old Dominion basketball closely for nearly 45 years.
Mann played basketball for the Monarchs from 1978-1982, serving as team captain his senior year and scoring 1,004 points. Now you can hear him on the radio covering the team. His final season was just before ODU joined the Sun Belt for the first time and he's in favor of the latest move by the university to return to the conference.
"We're going back to a conference, which I think is a great move for Old Dominion," Mann said on Wednesday just after the Monarchs' jump the Sun Belt was announced. "Number one, exposure is going to be tons better with the television exposure and then the natural rivalries and travel. That all amounts to saving dollars and making more money."
The Sun Belt has a television deal with ESPN that runs through the 2030-2031 school year. During that span, every Monarch football and men's and women's basketball game will be televised on an ESPN platform.
Mann knows that the Sun Belt is not as strong on the basketball court as it may have been back in the 1980s. That's when he remembers high profile coaches leading good teams in the league night in and night out. Those were the years that saw the Monarchs play home games at The Scope. The former ODU standout thinks the league can get back to that point while also seeing its strengths in other sports.
"The Sun Belt is not what it was then, but at the same time, it still exists mostly as a powerful football conference."
Football has certainly played a key role in Old Dominion athletics since arriving in 2009. The Monarchs made the jump from the CAA to Conference USA in 2013, transitioning from FCS to FBS football. The Sun Belt will give ODU a stronger football league, but Mann thinks that having football on campus helps everybody.
"I see it as really a strength. I think there's opportunity and synergy there," he said, noting that football was not a sport at Old Dominion during his days in a Monarch uniform. "I would think that the better facilities, strength training, I think it has to raise the bar for everyone."
Old Dominion will become an official member of the Sun Belt no later than July 1, 2023. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday at 9:00 AM to formally welcome the Monarchs into the league.