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Old Dominion's transition to C-USA in full bloom

May. 29, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

NORFOLK, Va. -- The window in Old Dominion President John Broderick's office used to overlook a campus eyesore.

But like so much else on the ever-sprawling campus, Foreman Field now glistens anew, with 26 suites in one end zone, entertainment pavilions, a new paint job and a football team that is 38-10 in four seasons.

A $25 million facelift gave the stadium a new look in 2006 as Old Dominion brought back football after 67 years, and the project seemingly started a building frenzy on campus. It coincidentally coincides with the school's athletic move to Conference USA, a transition that will be completed in 2014-15.

Broderick estimates there is $400 million in construction underway on campus right now, and the athletic department is fundraising for additional projects. Athletic director Wood Selig says the school has raised about $6 million for an $8 million basketball practice facility, and more are coming.

"I think maybe our new mascot should be a crane," Selig joked.

That $400 million? Has nothing to do with athletics. It includes a new art building, a performing arts addition just down the street from Foreman Field and a systems research and academic building.

Elevating football to the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision, the largest classification, spurred the move to Conference USA, and at a high price tag. ODU had to pay a $2 million entry fee, a $250,000 exit fee to leave the Colonial Athletic Association and expects its athletic budget to increase by about $2.5 million annually. Broderick knows the numbers could cause critics to think athletics count too much.

"I'm sure there's always somebody who doesn't understand that the money we generate for the academic enterprise and the money that we generate for the auxiliary enterprises are from two different pots," he said, "but I think as a result of the athletic piece, it's engaged more people with the academic piece.

"I think there's a balance."

The basketball building will be a huge addition, new coach Jeff Jones said. He inherits a team that finished 5-25 last season, but averaged more than 24 victories over the previous eight seasons.

"The practice facility shows the university's commitment," Jones said.

There also will be gains in exposure that are difficult to place a value on, Selig said.

"We're bringing the ODU brand to new parts of the country," he said, most notably talent-rich Texas and Florida, which both have multiple teams in the league. "It's going to be big for us."

On the football side, coach Bobby Wilder is excited, even though in this transition season, the only C-USA team the Monarchs will play -- East Carolina -- will no longer be a Conference-USA member in 2014.

Wilder isn't certain this year's schedule, with road games at East Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Idaho and North Carolina, will even be a fair barometer of how ODU can compete at the FBS level.

"In a general sense, I've always felt this way," Wilder said. "The teams in the CAA can compete with most of the mid-major teams in the country, and at times can compete with the BCS-level schools.

"I don't think the jump is as big as people think on a once-in-a-while basis, but when you have to do it consistently, and do it every week, then it's a sizeable jump, and transitioning from 63 scholarships to 85 ... we're a couple years away from having 85 kids on scholarship that are all FBS level players."

Most expected the Monarchs to struggle when ODU restarted football, too, but the reverse has been true. Wilder's team reached the FCS playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and will take on a challenging schedule with Taylor Heinicke, last year's Walter Payton Award-winner, back at quarterback.

Recruiting trips within C-USA's footprint have already paid off, too, Wilder said, noting that last year's recruiting class featured six players who hail from Texas, and two who come from Florida.

"Stay tuned," Wilder said. "It's only going to get more exciting."

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