NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- When one door closes, another opens, and even though Old Dominion is closing the door on its Conference USA stay on its own, the Monarchs see a bright future opening a new chapter in the Sun Belt Conference.
Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill was on hand a S.B. Ballard Stadium on Wednesday morning to officially welcome ODU as the league's newest member. In the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, both the school and the conference feel like they've hit a home run.
"I don't think there would have been a better fit or a better location for ODU than the Sun Belt Conference," Monarch Director of Athletics Wood Selig said. "If you're in the Olympics, we stuck the landing. I'd say we got a 10."
"In the sports that are important to us, ODU is really competitive," noted Gill. "We're in this beautiful football stadium so the investments certainly are consistent with what our institutions are doing, and then the academic profile fits as well."
During Wednesday's press conference, Selig broke down why the jump in conferences made sense. At the center of the reasoning is student-athlete welfare, which Selig noted would always come first. The Sun Belt boasts a tighter footprint than Conference USA, which will benefit both student-athletes and fans once the Monarchs begin a Sun Belt schedule in terms of travel. Selig also pointed out the stiffer competition and strong fanbases and atmospheres among the conference members.
"It's less travel, less missed class time," the ODU athletic director noted. "It's hyper fan friendly because it's a bunch of like schools, schools who are committed to national prominence backed by strong fan support."
"It's a lot better to play college football when your parents can be at every game," added Monarchs' head football coach Ricky Rahne. "That's part of it, getting to kiss your mom after you have a big win and those sort of things, that's a big deal."
Another positive to the move is more exposure. The Sun Belt has a television deal with ESPN in place through the 2030-2031 school year. Among the terms, guaranteeing all football and men's and women's basketball games will be shown on an ESPN platform. It's a far cry from Conference USA, where fans expressed frustration with the difficulty of finding ODU sports on TV during contests. The ESPN factor is something that can add a little juice to recruiting.
"Just to be able to tell our parents where to watch their kids play on a weekly basis and it's going to be consistent, that's going to be a huge factor," Rahne said.
"The status and what people thing about the conference, I think the perception of the Sun Belt Conference has always been that it's a very, very good baseball league," Monarch head baseball coach Chris Finwood pointed out.
Both the Sun Belt and Old Dominion noted that the Monarchs will become official members of the league no later than July 1, 2023. ODU President Dr. Brian Hemphill and Selig both said that being able to begin in the conference any earlier would require cooperation and mutual consent between Conference USA and the Sun Belt when it comes to bi-laws and scheduling.
As it stands, Selig likens conference realignment to a game of musical chairs and the Monarchs are pretty happy with the seat in which they've landed.
"When the music stops, you want to make sure that you've got the right seat to sit in, so Old Dominion, in this instance, found the perfect seat for ODU and ODU Athletics."