Old Dominion’s move to Conference USA seems more inevitable by the hour, no matter the financial and competitive challenges. The Monarchs’ long-time home, the Colonial Athletic Association, is just too fractured, even if VCU and George Mason decline overtures from the Atlantic 10.
With that in mind, let’s glance at how Conference USA membership could affect ODU’s headline sports.
FOOTBALL: In each of the past two seasons, a pair of C-USA teams has finished among the Associated Press’ top 25 -- No. 18 Houston and 20 Southern Mississippi in 2011, No. 21 Central Florida and 24 Tulsa in 2010. That’s a far cry from 2000-09, when no league team cracked the AP’s season-ending poll.
Now Houston and UCF are among four C-USA schools bailing for the Big East, and none of the five replacements announced Friday – Charlotte, North Texas, Louisiana Tech, Texas-San Antonio and Florida International -- has ever been a national force. But Florida International and Louisiana Tech have fared well recently in the Sun Belt and Western Athletic conferences, respectively.
Coached by former Miami offensive tackle Mario Cristobal, FIU has played in a bowl each of the last two years. Louisiana Tech is the reigning WAC champion and is the alma mater of three Pro Football Hall of Famers: quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive lineman Fred Dean and offensive tackle Willie Roaf.
Safe to say, C-USA would be an exponential upgrade for ODU’s fledgling Championship Subdivision program.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Over the last seven seasons, or since Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati and Louisville left for the Big East, C-USA and the Colonial are remarkably similar. Each has received four at-large NCAA tournament bids, and each is 13-11 in NCAA play.
The CAA’s George Mason and VCU reached the Final Four in 2006 and ’11, respectively. C-USA’s Memphis lost the 2008 national championship game to Kansas in overtime.
But Memphis owns all of C-USA’s tournament victories in that span, and the Tigers are headed to the Big East. UAB in 2005 is the last league team other than Memphis to advance in the NCAA bracket.
Similarly, George Mason and VCU account for 12 of the CAA’s 13 NCAA wins since 2006, and many expect them to leave for the Atlantic 10. The conference’s other NCAA victory was ODU over Notre Dame in 2010.
Among the five newcomers, Charlotte has the only notable men’s basketball profile, with a 1977 Final Four and 10 NCAA appearances from 1988-2005. Karl Malone led Louisiana Tech to the 1985 Sweet 16, but the Bulldogs haven’t made the tournament since 1991.
In short, ODU likely would be immediately competitive in C-USA.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: The Colonial and Conference USA have one Sweet 16 between them in the last seven years, that ODU’s in 2008. Otherwise, it’s been grim for both leagues. The CAA is 3-10 in the past seven NCAA tournaments, C-USA 2-9.
Louisiana Tech will bring storied tradition to C-USA women’s basketball in the form of 10 Final Fours and two national championships – the Lady Techsters won the first-ever NCAA tournament, in 1982 at Norfolk Scope. But they have not advanced in the tournament since 2004.
ODU, the 1985 national champion, is in similar decline, missing the last four NCAAs. Second-year coach Karen Barefoot’s reclamation project likely would be just as challenging in C-USA as in the CAA.
BASEBALL: This probably would be the Monarchs’ sternest test other than football. Since 2006, C-USA has earned 16 at-large NCAA tournament bids to the CAA’s two.
Three current league members boast recent College World Series appearances -- Tulane in 2001 and ’05, Southern Mississippi in 2009 and Rice seven times since 1997. The Owls won the 2003 national championship.
Conversely, ODU is among the CAA’s weaker programs. Not even reigning American League Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander could pitch the Monarchs into the NCAA tournament from 2002-04 – their last appearance was 2000.
FIELD HOCKEY: No school can match ODU’s nine national championships, the most recent of which came in 2000. But presently, Conference USA does not sponsor the sport, so the Lady Monarchs, NCAA semifinalists in 2011, could be on their own.
MEN’S SOCCER: Switching leagues would challenge an ODU program that has reached 10 of the last 15 NCAA tournaments, including the last three. C-USA has sent four teams to each of the last two postseasons – the Southeastern Conference’s South Carolina and Kentucky compete in C-USA soccer because the SEC does not sponsor the sport.
Two of Conference USA’s better programs, Southern Methodist and Central Florida, are moving to the Big East, but newcomer Charlotte reached last season’s national title match, losing to North Carolina.
In short, if Old Dominion football could go from zero-to-60 like Tony Stewart, and that's an XXL if, the Monarchs and Conference USA would fit athletically.
Look for plenty more on ODU's possible move in the coming days online and in print.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including Sunday’s on ODU’s potential move.