Wood Selig and Terry Holland go back to the late 1980s at the University of Virginia, where Selig was a fledgling athletics administrator and Holland was a Final Four basketball coach. When Holland became the school’s athletic director in 1995, Selig reported to him.
Selig is now Old Dominion’s AD, and Holland serves in the same capacity at East Carolina. Their personal and professional relationships – not to mention simple geography – were critical elements in ODU’s move to Conference USA.
Holland championed the Monarchs as an 11th-hour inclusion to the league’s six-school expansion. “A key resource” and “strong advocate,” Selig called him at Thursday’s announcement.
The primary reason was ODU’s proximity to ECU – the campuses are separated by about 140 miles. Presently, the Pirates’ closest conference rival is Marshall, approximately 450 miles away in Huntington, W.Va.
But Holland also views Selig as a top-shelf AD and Hampton Roads as a desirable market for a league that values urban presence. ECU’s men’s basketball team played at ODU in late November, a trip that reminded Holland of the school’s quality facilities.
“Actually, that was not really an eye-opener for me as I had seen ODU’s excellent athletic and other facilities and knew about their passionate fan base,” Holland said via email Thursday. “The visit did give me the opportunity to meet President (John) Broderick, but I was already on a recruiting trip, as I have felt for some time that the synergy between ECU and ODU will create a competitive environment that will demand that each of us achieve at the highest levels possible.
“Those kinds of close proximity rivalries drive institutions to be the best that they can be in every possible way. Rivalries that begin on the field soon spread to the academic environment and other important areas for today’s university students.”
Selig hopes to impose on Holland for another favor: an ODU-at-ECU football game in 2013, when the Monarchs will be transitioning from the Championship Subdivision to Bowl Subdivision. Such a contest would preview what figures to be ODU’s premier Conference USA rivalry and likely would sell out 50,000-seat Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“We are full (in 2013),” Holland emailed, “but will certainly see if there is any way to get some wiggle room or find someone who can play them.”
ODU coach Bobby Wilder certainly is ready.
“I told (Wood), I’ll drive the bus,” he said.
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Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including Friday’s on ODU’s leap to Conference USA.