NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — It was all but certain, but now it’s official — Old Dominion is heading to the Sun Belt Conference.

ODU will join no later than July 1, 2023.

“Joining the Sun Belt Conference is a game-changer for Old Dominion University and our athletic program.  We are excited about the expanded opportunities and limitless possibilities now and well into the future,” said ODU President Brian Hemphill. “When you think about the amount of travel and missing class time, that’s important to us. We need them in competition close to the institution within the region where they can truly focus and do a great job in the classroom and in competition.”

Hemphill, Athletic Director Wood Selig and Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill held a press conference on the move on Thursday. You can watch the full presser below.

The conference made the announcement on Wednesday, after reports came out last week that the deal with ODU was essentially finalized. ODU is one of eight teams to leave Conference USA in the past week. 6 others (UAB, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic) left for the American Athletic Conference, and Southern Mississippi also joined the Sun Belt this week. ODU will have to pay around $3 million to Conference USA, which is scrambling to stay alive, as an exit fee.

“We are thrilled to welcome Old Dominion University to the Sun Belt. ODU brings a host of strengths to our conference. They have comprehensive success. They’ve collected many championships. They will have natural rivals in our footprint,” Gill said in a release Wednesday. Gill was in Norfolk Thursday morning and shared more. “My impression of ODU was great. It was a natural fit and my comfort level with Wood helped. It progressed quickly.”

The addition of ODU brings the conference to 14 members overall: Appalachian State, Arkansas Little Rock, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, University of Louisiana Monroe, South Alabama, University of Texas at Arlington, Texas State, Troy and Southern Miss. UT Arlington and Little Rock don’t play football, and reports indicate they could potentially leave the conference in coming years.

ODU will join for all sports the conference sponsors (there are reports the Sun Belt is looking to start men’s soccer), football is the driver here.

Focusing on passionate fanbases over just going after traditional large media markets, the Sun Belt has turned itself into a force among the “Group of Five,” the FBS conferences outside of the Power 5 conferences such as the SEC and ACC. Coastal Carolina, App State and Louisiana have all been in or around the top 25 in recent years, with Coastal currently at No. 25 in the AP Top 25.

“That (fan bases) is going to bring atmosphere to our games and we wanted to give them the opportunity to travel. Regionality was important. We wanted to give it a tight footprint.”

While ODU has struggled overall since its jump to FBS in the 2013-2014 season (they did have a win over No. 13 Virginia Tech in 2018 and a 10-3 season in 2016-17 that included a win in the Bahamas Bowl) the move should give the program a boost.

ODU Athletic Director Wood Selig says the big plus for the Sun Belt is the potential for strong rivalries in the region, especially with the Monarchs being able to rejoin former CAA rival JMU and current conference rival Marshall. Both JMU and Marshall are expected to join the Sun Belt soon.

“On behalf of our student athletes, coaches and athletic administration, I want to express our gratitude to Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Keith Gill and the entire league leadership for this wonderful opportunity to join the Sun Belt Conference with all of its current momentum and potential,” Selig said. “While C-USA has proven to be an excellent home for ODU Athletics during our transition from FCS to FBS, and we thank the C-USA membership and leadership for such an outstanding partnership, the chance to enhance the overall athletic experience for the student-athletes, fans and alumni of ODU in the SBC with regional rivalries represents the perfect opportunity for the continued growth and evolution of ODU athletic programs in our pursuit of national prominence.”

“It’s going to be a new day soon… it enhances our student athlete welfare, it’s hyper fan-friendly because it’s a bunch of like schools. Schools that are committed to national prominence backed by strong fan support.”

JMU is holding an emergency board meeting this Friday, and still needs approval from the state to make the move. Marshall is expected to announce the change after it announces a new president coming up.

Here’s how the current map of the conference looks with the addition of ODU. Marshall and JMU would head to the eastern division.

Another big key with the Sun Belt? All of its games are on ESPN networks or the their streaming channels, and the deal runs through the 2030-31. ODU’s media deal through Conference USA has games on CBS Sports Network and streaming on Facebook.

This is actually a return to the Sun Belt for ODU, which played in a version of the conference from 1982-1991 before moving to the Colonial Athletic Association with JMU.