Surprises have been pleasant and anticipation palpable, Wood Selig said, as Old Dominion athletics makes one of the most significant moves in school history.
The Monarchs officially join Conference USA on July 1, a game changer for the upwardly mobile football program and a jump for nearly all of the school's sports teams.
"I think there's a spring in everyone's step, whether it's coaches, administrators or student-athletes," said Selig, ODU's athletic director. "Our year in limbo is over. Our future is clear. We know exactly what is about to unfold. We're about to compete at a higher national level in all our sports. There's a sharper focus and a deeper purpose as we align ourselves with a group of institutions that we respect and we think will enhance our program."
ODU ends its 22-year affiliation with the Colonial Athletic Association to join the — for now — 16-team league that stretches from West Virginia (Marshall) south to Florida (Florida Atlantic, FIU) and west to Texas (UTEP, Rice, UT San Antonio, North Texas).
Conference USA loses East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa after next school year and adds Western Kentucky, which will make it a 14-team league.
Though football was the driving force behind the move, Selig said he believes that the entire athletic department will benefit. He said that coaches are telling him that they're hearing from recruits in different areas of the country.
"I think we're extending the base of our recruiting beyond the footprint of the CAA," Selig said.
Increased costs were the primary concern when Selig and ODU officials announced in May 2012 that they were making the move. They estimated that travel expenses within the far-flung league and moving from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Bowl Subdivision would cost an extra $3 million per year.
"We decided to make the move in the span of five or six weeks," Selig said. "We had to do the deepest of dives in the shortest possible period. Normally, that would put you at risk for making quick judgments, maybe without all of the information necessary to make the best possible decision.
"But what happened with us, and maybe because the timetable was so compressed, it forced us to focus with total precision on every aspect of the move."
Selig said that David Harnage, the school's chief operating officer, directed the study and emphasized examining every possible risk and worst-case scenario: lesser payouts from the conference; lower attendance; decreased donations and corporate sponsorship; spikes in travel costs.
Because of that, Selig said, they may have overestimated travel costs and underestimated the payout that they will receive from Conference USA and membership within FBS.
For example, he said that school officials figured airfare for C-USA road games at $500 per ticket, per athlete. However, Southwest Airlines travels to a handful of conference destinations, which could reduce costs a bit.
He said that the reconfigured FBS playoff and revenue distribution deal could net ODU an extra $250,000 above the initial payout projection, giving the department approximately $1 million. He said a modification associated with football ticket costs is expected to generate another $500,000 annually.
Football also will have the option of scheduling "guarantee" games against marquee programs: one-time road trip games that could be worth close to a seven-figure payout.
Selig pointed out that school officials have kept their promise not to raise student fees to offset increased costs.
"I'd venture to say we're the only school in the history of college athletics that's made a move like this without a significant increase in student fees," he said. "We were determined not to do that."
The most visible components of the move to C-USA are the basketball court at the Constant Center and the football field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Selig said that refinishing the court at the Ted, complete with C-USA logos and the oversized state map at center court, cost roughly $30,000 — almost double what a standard refinish job would have cost. The CAA logo had to be cut out of the football field and a C-USA logo sewn in to the artificial turf.
He said that some signage must be replaced at various venues, but that Conference USA has contributed in that area, as well.
"There really haven't been any 'Oh my gosh!' moments," Selig said.
One indirect benefit of the move to Conference USA, Selig said, is that it is essentially a promotion for nearly everyone in the athletic department. Coaches and teams will compete against stiffer competition, for the most part.
"Our coaches just got their next job without having to change ZIP codes or sell a house or move a family," Selig said. "They were able to make their next move without sending an application or interviewing somewhere else. This is, for many on our staff, their next professional move, and it's been as easy as it possibly could be."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun