Look at the landscape of college football, and there are very few BCS conference schools not playing a team from the former Division I-AA this season.
Unsurprisingly, there aren’t a whole lot of significant I-AAs not playing a larger school for a big pay day. Every team in both the CAA and the Southern Conference will face at least one major-college program this season.
So why would Old Dominion, a first-year program profiled in today’s dead-tree edition, be any different?
Because it quite simply isn’t the plan.
“There was a lot of talk about it even through the interview process when I first got hired,” coach Bobby Wilder said “[One thing] the president, the athletic director and I agreed upon is that we would get the program established first, meaning cycle through at least one recruiting class and then see where we are as a program and then make that decision.”
That would be 2013 at the earliest. Outgoing athletic director Jim Jarrett, who started at Old Dominion in 1970, said he was uncomfortable with the idea of forcing a coach to schedule simply for financial purposes and remained staunchly in favor of home-and-home series.
(That philosophy bears out in basketball, where the Monarchs have brought DePaul, Georgetown, North Carolina, Saint Joseph’s, UAB and Virginia Tech into Norfolk in the last seven years).
But this is football, where a single guarantee game would pay a lot of bills. And there’s even some natural matchups with regional intrigue; Virginia and Virginia Tech are obvious, but Navy would be a fascinating possibility since there’s a large naval base in Hampton Roads.
“Everybody loves that game and says ‘Oh, that’s a sexy game to put on the schedule,’ and that’s great,” Wilder said. “But my experience with it goes back to 2004 at Maine where we had a team I thought was good enough to win the national championship. We go down to Mississippi State and beat them. It was a huge win, it was on ESPN and we got paid $450,000, the AD was all excited to pay some bills.
“The problem was, we had the best tailback in the league and he hurt his shoulder, we lost an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman. In essence we lost three starters and got four or five other kids banged up. We ended up being 6-5 on a team I thought was good enough to win a national championship. It’s a double-edged sword when you do that.”
Clearly, guarantee games aren’t going to vanish from the college football landscape any time soon. But Old Dominion isn’t looking to get into that business just yet —- especially since schools come to rely on those huge payouts once they start rolling in.
So any visions of Old Dominion visiting Charlottesville or Blacksburg or College Park will have to wait for a little while.
“Six years down the road, we’ll make that decision if it’s worth it,” Wilder said.
—- Patrick Stevens