Wood Selig has been here before and vows not to repeat his mistakes. Here is shepherding a football program from AAA to the big leagues. Mistakes include crippling schedules and high-volume redshirting.
Selig is Old Dominion's athletic director. He is ambitious, creative and connected, traits that will serve him well as the Monarchs' football program starts to navigate from the Championship Subdivision (FCS) to Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
But that ambition bit Selig in the backside when he charted a similar course as Western Kentucky's athletic director.
After Thursday's announcement that ODU is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association and the comfort of FCS for Conference USA and the challenge of FBS, Selig graciously recalled that trying chapter and how it will inform the Monarchs' decisions moving forward.
Selig served as Western Kentucky's AD from 1999-2010, a tenure highlighted by the Hilltoppers' 2002 FCS national title under Jack Harbaugh, father of NFL head coaches Jim and John Harbaugh. Moreover, from 1996-2007, Western Kentucky football had 12 consecutive winning seasons and earned six playoff invitations.
That streak hit a brick wall when the Hilltoppers upgraded to the FBS' Sun Belt Conference.
From 2008-10, Western Kentucky went 2-10, 0-12 and 2-10. Nine games into the winless season, Selig fired his friend and hand-picked successor to Harbaugh, Dave Elson.
The Hilltoppers improved exponentially to 7-5 in 2011, but Selig knows the transition needn't have been so taxing.
The first misstep was scheduling too much too fast. In 2008, Western Kentucky played Virginia Tech, Alabama, Kentucky and Indiana. A year later: Tennessee, South Florida and Navy. And in 2010: Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and South Florida.
Suffice to say, the Hilltoppers lost those 11 games, nine of which were on the road.
Furthering Western Kentucky's struggles: wholesale redshirting of recruiting classes during the upgrade.
"We were playing (FBS) those first years with (FCS) talent," Selig said, "and we got our nose bloodied. I will definitely discourage high-volume redshirting. We have to go get kids who can help us right away."
That includes transfers from other FBS programs and more accomplished high school prospects than ODU has ever recruited.
Selig plans to ease their burden with more measured scheduling.
For 2013, the first of the Monarchs' two transition years, Selig envisions playing 6-8 teams that are either FCS or moving to FBS. Possibilities include future conference rivals Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio, plus Texas State, Georgia State, William and Mary and James Madison. The remaining games would be against FBS programs, and Selig already has reached out to East Carolina, Navy (a natural for a Norfolk school), Virginia and Virginia Tech.
In 2014, Selig hopes to play two or three FCS opponents — JMU and William and Mary remain on the radar — and as many Conference USA colleagues as possible.
Once a full Conference USA member in 2015, the Monarchs will play eight league games, presuming no further alignment changes. The eight would include dates against Eastern Division rivals ECU, Charlotte, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, Alabama-Birmingham and Florida International, plus two games, one home and one away, against the Western Division.
That translates to only one conference road trip per season west of the Mississippi, to either Tulsa, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Texas-San Antonio, Rice or Texas-El Paso.
Then there are four non-league games, likely three versus FBS opponents and one against the FCS. Coach Bobby Wilder wants the FCS game to be with an in-state school, preferably William and Mary or JMU, unless the Dukes also elevate to FBS, while Selig again hopes to lasso Virginia or Virginia Tech.
With no immediate plans to expand the Monarchs' 19,818-seat stadium, Selig also would like to stage a neutral-site contest at the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field, just as Virginia Tech (versus Cincinnati) and JMU (against West Virginia) are in 2012.
Guarantee games, hopefully no more than one in a season, are possible as well. That would entail a road contest at a renowned program such as Michigan or LSU for an assured payout that could approach $1 million.
Those are certainly grand aims for a program that three years ago played Chowan, Virginia Union and Georgetown.
Wilder concedes the risk, but considers it calculated, "not unlike an onside kick or fake punt."
Selig is determined to manage the Monarchs' risk and fans' expectations.
"At Western Kentucky, we really started to lose our fan support," he said, citing not only attendance but also donations. "There goes your funding model. It was financially devastating."
The Monarchs have many advantages over Western Kentucky, chief among them an urban recruiting and fundraising base in a football state. Western Kentucky was saddled with a rural market in a basketball state.
Indeed, with more than $3 million in pledges, Selig is convinced the move to Conference USA is fiscally sound.
"We will not stop at $3 million," he said.
And this: "We are ready to take our football program to the next level."
Given his experience, Selig should know.