NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — “The only constant is change” is a phrase that has never been more applicable to the college athletics landscape. Much of that change begins with conference realignment. It’s always been a part of the business of college sports, but now it’s as fast and as furious as ever.
“When we learned that the six schools were leaving Conference USA, we started looking at options and clearly the best option for us was going to be the Sun Belt Conference,” Dr. Wood Selig, ODU athletics director, said in an exclusive interview.
Dr. Brian Hemphill was also a critical piece in the decision to move to the Sun Belt despite only being on the job for a few months.
“It was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision,” he said.
From 1982-1991, ODU was actually already in the Sun Belt. That was prior to the university making the move to the CAA where the Monarchs would spend the next 20 years. ODU administration gave the green light for a football program in 2006 before playing its first season in 2009. Not long after, a move from FCS to FBS was imminent and that soon became a driving for the athletic department in terms of revenue and growth.
“We were generating about 1.3 to 1.4 million a year from CUSA revenues,” Selig said. “We expect that number to improve in the Sun Belt whether it’s 1.5 or two million per year per school remains to be seen.”
There’s also a specific revenue group of five conferences receives from the college football playoff.
“About 10% of the overall CFB revenue is distributed to the group of five conferences,” Selig added.
More money is the most obvious reason for the move but it’s also addition by subtraction. Margins should dramatically improve overall in the entire athletic department budget. The Sun Belt is more geographically friendly for ODU for in conference competition.
Excluding UTA and Little Rock in the image below, here’s what the new Sun Belt will look like. The Eastern division is expected to be made up of ODU, JMU, Marshall, App State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Georgia Southern.
Fewer travel expenses for flights and hotels mean better margins and improved student-athlete welfare in terms of wear and tear and less missed class.
“It’s a little more in our footprint,” head baseball coach Chris Finwood said. “For our fans and a little less travel for us, less flights is always nice.”
“When you look at the welfare of the student-athlete, that benefits them greatly,” women’s basketball Head Coach Delisha Milton-Jones emphasized. “Not having to miss so much class and jumping on a bus as opposed to us connecting in airports.”
The third and other critically important part of the move is overall brand exposure. The Sun Belt has a 10-year contract in place with ESPN to broadcast games on its family of networks. That television contract is worth more money to ODU on a yearly basis compared to CUSA.
“That’s one of the main things I’m excited about,” football Head Coach Ricky Rahne said in regards to more streamlined and easier to find television coverage. “Just to be able to tell our parents where to watch our kids play on a weekly basis. I feel like that’s really going to help us.”