NORFOLK, Va. (Harry Minium, ODUSports.com) - NORFOLK, Va. - Old Dominion University will conduct a feasibility study to help decide how best to improve the Bud Metheny Baseball Stadium, University officials announced Thursday. The study was commissioned last week and is a part of an effort by the University to build on the team's success this spring.
The study will provide recommendations on the scope of the project as well as initial cost estimates, said Greg DuBois, ODU's vice president for administration and finance. There is no timetable on when the project would begin.
The Old Dominion Athletic Foundation will conduct a fundraising effort to help pay for the upgrades, said Jena Virga, a senior associate athletic director. Although the fundraising effort has yet to formally begin, some of the University's most generous donors have expressed serious interest in helping fund the project.
Although ODU was the No. 1 seed in its regional of the NCAA tournament, the Monarchs could not host the event at Bud Metheny Baseball Stadium because the University's baseball facilities do not meet association standards for hosting a regional.
Instead, the Monarchs had to play on the road, at the University of South Carolina's Founders Park, a stadium with suites, club seating and large support facilities, but nearly 400 miles from Norfolk.
The Monarchs were at a decided disadvantage last Friday night, when ODU defeated the Gamecocks, 2-1, in front of 7,315 raucous South Carolina fans.
A group of ODU donors flew to Columbia for a day to support the baseball team but also to take in the stadium and its amenities. While there, they discussed their interest in helping to fund needed renovations to Bud Metheny Stadium with Virga and Athletic Director Wood Selig.
They vowed not only to help, but to persuade other alumni and friends to also support the project.
ODU was beaten in the regional championship game, 4-3, by the University of Virginia Tuesday morning.
The game was televised nationally on ESPN2, which reaches more than 85 million households. Finwood said he believes that was a missed opportunity for ODU to showcase its campus and baseball program.
"We were the only college baseball game on TV," Finwood said. "Millions of people saw that game."
The Monarchs finished the season 44-16, were seeded 11th nationally in the NCAA tournament, won their first Conference USA tournament and advanced to the first regional final in school history.
Conference USA is among the nation's elite baseball leagues – it was rated fifth this season in the NCAA RPI ratings. Four C-USA teams went to the NCAA Tournament, including Louisiana Tech, which was also a No. 1 seed.
The Monarchs developed something of a national following as a blue-collar team that outworked its opponents. It led the nation in home runs. ODU also attracted national headlines after Finwood's wife died in April and the team dedicated the rest of its season to him.
The loss to U.Va. Tuesday was a heartbreaker. The Cavaliers won on a 10th inning walk-off home run by Devin Ortiz with two outs. Although Finwood's players were in tears, he told them outside the dugout that their success will help build momentum for a new stadium.
"Other programs that have had a season like this, it has propelled their programs to a different level," Finwood said. "It happened at Coastal Carolina, where they had a great season, and it led them to build a beautiful, new stadium.
"I wanted our kids to know that when it happens, it will be on their shoulders, that whatever we do with our facilities will be because of their success.
"They were hurting, but I wanted them to know how special they were, that the momentum they created is going to lead us to something special."
The Bud Metheny Stadium was built in 1983 and at the time was one of the finest in the Mid-Atlantic. But that was more than 38 years ago, and only modest changes have been made since to "The Bud," as the stadium is known by fans.
ODU has added an indoor hitting facility and an area along the right field fence called "Rally Alley," where fans can have food and drink and watch the game. But the stands, dressing rooms, press box, dugouts and other facilities are basically the same as they were nearly four decades ago.
"We were bitterly disappointed that we were not able to host as a No. 1 seed," Selig said. "I felt terrible for our student-athletes who deserved the opportunity to play at home in front of our University community and their family and friends.
"But the reality is that while our baseball field, the turf, the indoor hitting facility meet all the standards, it's the back of the house that needs the most attention."
NCAA officials have told Selig that The Bud lacks a sports medicine area and two large rooms to hold teams in case of a rain delay. It also lacks a modern press box that can accommodate a dozen or more reporters, radio and TV crews, scorekeepers, NCAA officials and others.
"We know the specs for hosting a regional and super-regional," Selig said. "And it is our goal and commitment to our program to start immediately building exactly what we need to so we can be in a position in the future to bid and host Conference USA and NCAA tournaments.
"If you bring four of the nation's elite teams in the case of a regional or eight teams in the case of a conference tournament, you need space, you need more room."
Finwood said he will begin meeting with donors later this week.
"I wasn't part of the meeting in Columbia, but I knew about it and was so pleased to hear there's a lot of momentum out there to get this done," Finwood said.
Finwood said he was highly impressed when Louisiana Tech's new stadium two weeks ago at the Conference USA tournament.
"Louisiana Tech's facility is the best in Conference USA," he said.
Finwood said Virginia's baseball program offers a strong example of what a refurbished stadium could mean for ODU.
Virginia's baseball program was mired in mediocrity when, in 2002, it opened what is now called Davenport Field at Disharoon Park, a stadium funded in part by a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor. News outlets have said the benefactor was best-selling author John Grisham.
"They were really struggling and maybe on the brink of dropping baseball," Finwood said.
"And they had a big donor, who writes a lot of books, help give them some money. Then they hired a great coach, and voila."
U.Va. baseball was indeed in deep trouble. A study had recommended turning it into a non-scholarship program. That recommendation was rejected, and the Charlottesville community rallied around the Cavaliers.
Brian O'Connor was named U.Va.'s coach in 2003, and the new facilities helped him build a national powerhouse.
U.Va. baseball is now the place to be in the spring in Charlottesville – the Cavs average about 3,500 fans per home game.
ODU's stated goal for all its 16 scholarship programs is to provide every team the best chance of winning a conference title.
"And we've done that in every sport except baseball," Finwood said. "We need to do this to continue the momentum we created this season.
"We just really appreciate the groundswell of support that has occurred. We don't want to lose that momentum."