Lots of things would seem tough for a start-up program.
Establishing a team’s parameters, everything from length of practice to attire worn to walkthroughs would be up there.
Recruiting when there’s little more than a hole in the ground or a dilapidated old stadium to show off would be another.
Hiring a staff willing to sit out two seasons is up there.
But none of those topped the list for Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder.
“Scheduling was probably the most difficult part of this start up, and I put it ahead of recruiting because recruiting wasn’t as difficult as the schedule,” Wilder said during my recent visit to Norfolk. “The biggest challenge was not being in a league. We had to find 11 games for 2009 and 2010.”
Wilder wasn’t on the job six weeks (and was still another 29 months from his first kickoff) when he realized what was in front of him.
He pulled coaches away from other duties, and those in the program collectively put on a full-court press to find opponents. Old Dominion contacted 120 schools within an eight-hour radius —- coaches, athletic directors, the whole bit —- just trying to set a schedule.
“I knew we had to get this done,” Wilder said. “Because most people do their schedules four or five years out.”
It was laborious on several levels. First, an absurd amount of items go into these deals. The guaranteed money provided to the visiting team is an obvious facet, but Wilder said everything from the time of kickoff to which conference would provide an officiating crew to the number of towels on the sideline got hammered out.
Then there’s the nasty lesson of being an independent. September games are easy to find. October and November —- when most schools plunge into conference play —- is quite a bit more difficult.
Realistically, it was a two-year headache; in 2011, the Monarchs join the CAA and will only have three games to schedule on their own. But in the interim, they had to fend for themselves.
Here’s what they came up with for the next two years (here’s the full 2009 schedule):
Campbell (home first)
Georgetown (home first)
Jacksonville (road first)
Monmouth (home first)
Presbyterian (home first)
Savannah State (road first)
VMI (road first)
North Carolina Central (home)
Virginia Union (home)
Georgia State (home)
William & Mary (home)
Assuming the Monarchs go with an 11-game schedule, there’s one extra spot on the 2010 schedule. But that slate already features a fellow CAA start-up (Georgia State) and the nearest CAA rival (William & Mary).
Best of all, the Monarchs have a competitive enough schedule to maintain hope of reaching the postseason; with only two Division II opponents this year, it’s at least a possibility to make the playoffs —- even if .500ish is probably a more realistic goal.
“I wanted us to be playoff eligible the first year,” Wilder said. “I’m not saying we’re going to make the playoffs, but in order to recruit the kind of players I wanted to recruit, I wanted to say ‘This schedule is aggressive, even though we’re not in a league, we can make the playoffs as an independent in ‘09 and ‘10.”
—- Patrick Stevens