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Conference USA defections don't deter Old Dominion's commitment

Buyer’s remorse for Conference USA? Not an ounce, Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig said, after East Carolina announced that its football program would join the Big East Conference and Tulane will join the Big East for all sports.

“It’s nice to have East Carolina in the league,” Selig said Tuesday, “but we didn’t join just because of East Carolina. That wasn’t our overwhelming, compelling drive to get into Conference USA.

“It’s a league that has great academic institutions in Rice and Tulane and Tulsa. It’s a league that has great TV exposure, with ESPN and Fox and CBS College Sports (now called CBS Sports Network). It’s a league that has considerably more upside revenue potential. It’s a league with high national brand awareness, and it’s a league that gives us a really strong upgrade for the overwhelming majority of our programs.”

Tulane will join the Big East as a full member in 2014, while ECU’s football program joins in 2014 as well. ECU football’s departure effectively ends the school’s membership in Conference USA, since league bylaws stipulate that a school must be an FBS member in C-USA or have applied for that status in order to be in C-USA in other sports.

The Big East moved to bolstered membership after losing Rutgers to the Big Ten. Connecticut and Louisville, now in the Big East, are believed to be on the short list of schools to replace Maryland in the ACC. Boise State and San Diego State might reconsider their commitment to the Big East, in the wake of recent movement nationally.

The Big East raided C-USA for its most recent additions: Memphis, Houston, Central Florida and SMU.

“In today’s world of college athletics,” Selig said, “you have to be prepared to have a fluid conference arrangement, which is unfortunate for everyone — not just ODU and Conference USA, but it’s unfortunate for fans and unfortunate for student-athletes.”

When ODU accepted an invitation to join Conference USA last May — the driving force was as a Football Bowl Subdivision home for its football program — the league had 14 schools. Tulane’s and ECU football’s departure leave C-USA with 12 football-only members, beginning in 2013.

Holdovers are Rice, Southern Miss, UAB, Texas El Paso, Marshall and Tulsa. New members are ODU, Charlotte, North Texas, Florida International, Louisiana Tech and Texas San Antonio. Charlotte and UTSA field startup football programs.

East Carolina provided a regional rival in far-flung Conference USA. The Pirates and ODU even agreed to begin their football rivalry a year early. The two will meet next season in Greenville, N.C., as the Monarchs transition to FBS.

Upon confirming East Carolina’s football departure from C-USA, Selig said that one of his first calls would be to Pirates athletic director Terry Holland, who strongly advocated for the Monarchs in the realignment process.

“We’ve thought the competition between our two schools in football was a good idea,” Selig said. “It’s still a good idea, whether it’s a Conference USA game or a non-conference, Big East-vs.-Conference USA game, so let’s get a six-, eight-, 10-year deal put together so we can preserve what we both felt had value, and that was competition between our respective institutions."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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