NORFOLK, Va. - Old Dominion was a member of the Sun Belt Conference from 1982-1991. Now the Monarchs are going back.
On Wednesday, the conference and university announced that Old Dominion has accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt. The Monarchs will officially join the league no later than July, 1, 2023.
A press conference has been scheduled for 9:00 AM on Thursday in Norfolk that includes ODU President Dr. Brian Hemphill, Monarch Director of Athletics Wood Selig and Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill.
"Joining the Sun Belt Conference is a game-changer for Old Dominion University and our athletic program. We are excited about the expanded opportunities and limitless possibilities now and well into the future,"Hemphill said in a university-issued release.
"As we prepare to begin a new era in ODU Athletics, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to Commissioner Keith Gill and the Sun Belt's member institutions, especially Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, Ph.D., for such a warm welcome. We look forward to competing with our Sun Belt family in the years to come. More importantly, we look forward to the lasting and meaningful partnerships that will develop as we spotlight the incredible talent and hard work of our student-athletes!"
ODU becomes the second school since Friday to join the league, joining fellow C-USA defect Southern Mississippi. Marshall and the Colonial Athletic Association's James Madison are following closely behind, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic.
"On behalf of our student athletes, coaches and athletic administration, I want to express our gratitude to Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Keith Gill and the entire league leadership for this wonderful opportunity to join the Sun Belt Conference with all of its current momentum and potential," added Selig.
"While C-USA has proven to be an excellent home for ODU Athletics during our transition from FCS to FBS, and we thank the C-USA membership and leadership for such an outstanding partnership, the chance to enhance the overall athletic experience for the student-athletes, fans and alumni of ODU in the SBC with regional rivalries represents the perfect opportunity for the continued growth and evolution of ODU athletic programs in our pursuit of national prominence."
The move gives the Monarchs a league that's more geographically-friendly when compared to the widespread footprint of Conference USA. ODU joins Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Georgia Southern in the eastern portion of the league. Louisiana, Louisiana Monroe, South Alabama, Arkansas State, Troy and Texas State make up the rest of the FBS football-playing portion of the conference, along with the newly added Golden Eagles. Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas-Arlington are members of the Sun Belt, but do not field FBS football programs.
"We are thrilled to welcome Old Dominion University to the Sun Belt. ODU brings a host of strengths to our conference. They are competitive across all of their sports, have a strong brand and are supported by a great fan base," said Gill.
The prospect of JMU joining the conference means the Monarchs and Dukes could renew an in-state rivalry as league foes. It's a regional rivalry that ODU lacked in C-USA, a conference that stretched as far south as Miami and as far west as El Paso.
The Monarchs will join the Sun Belt in all sports the conference offers, including baseball, men's basketball, football, men's golf, men's tennis, women's basketball, women's golf, women's soccer, women's tennis and volleyball. ODU currently competes and plans to remain in the Big East for field hockey. The rowing and lacrosse programs are currently in the American Athletic Association.
Old Dominion began competing in Conference USA in the fall of 2013 after making the jump to the FBS level in football. The program was previously a member of the CAA, joining that league after leaving the Sun Belt in 1991.