Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Old Dominion vs. Tennessee: It was never just another basketball game

Old Dominion vs. Tennessee. It wasn't just another game on the schedule. It was a basketball tradition.

The series that dates back to 1979 ended on Wednesday with the announcement of ODU's non conference schedule, which does not include a contest against the Lady Vols for the first time since 1984. The teams have played 43 times, including the 1997 national title game.
First and foremost, we're not taking shots at second-year Lady Monarchs coach Karen Barefoot, who has put together the type of schedule befitting a rebuilding program. But the news of ODU's nonconference schedule wasn't in the teams ODU will play. Rather it is in the familiar foe that is missing.

It was in 2009 that I asked Pat Summitt whether there was a chance the series between the schools might end soon. Summitt scoffed at the idea. In the pioneer days of women's basketball, she appreciated that a powerhouse like ODU would make room for Tennessee on its schedule. But Summitt, like her good friend Wendy Larry, is no longer at the head of her program.

Things change.

Many will say it was time. The series, dubbed a rivalry once, hasn't been. ODU's last win came in its glory season. Trailing by 10 at the half, the Lady Monarchs rallied for an 83-72 victory during the regular season in 1997 -- a loss the Lady Vols would avenge dearly in the title game. Later Summitt would say, however, that that loss for her Lady Vols before a frenzied Field House was her most memorable game in the building.

In 2008, ODU came achingly close to pulling off the upset with a 71-70 lead, time winding down. The eventual Sweet 16-bound Lady Monarchs couldn't finish, falling 81-76.

Most of the games in Knoxville were one-sided affairs. In 2000, the Lady Vols prevailed 113-55 to hand the program its worst loss at the time. Two years later, however, ODU had a lead with 5 1/2 minutes to play only to fall 74-62. The Lady Monarchs, who never won at Thompson-Boling Arena, have not won in Knoxville since 1982.

But now they don't get to play in that orange metropolis of a building rich with tradition. Nor will the orange make a regular stop in Norfolk, a biennial visit that has attracted even non-basketball folks to The Ted. Admittedly, one of my favorites moments of those games was the introduction of Pat Summitt, cheered by the Norfolk fans, who appreciated what she had done for the game even if they dearly wanted her team to fall flat on their floor.

To understand just how special it is to be a regular on the Tennessee schedule, all you had to do was talk to another CAA coach about the prospect. While ODU has a history of the best coming to Norfolk to play, many of the other CAA coaches would find their calls unreturned by the game's stalwarts. Other times the offer was, "You can play at our place. We're not coming to yours."

So ODU was lucky through the years -- fortunate to be on the floor against Michelle Marciniak, Chamique Holdsclaw, Candace Parker. As lopsided as the results could be in Rocky Top, the trip there was still a worthwhile one -- a measuring stick at times, a history lesson at the very least. The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame is only a few minutes from Thompson-Boling.

Tennessee was lucky, too, as we have no doubt that Summitt delivered a history lesson of her own to her players about Old Dominion's place in the sport.

The teams might very well play again, but the series is over. Some might be happy about that, others wistful, but there's no denying that ODU-Tennessee was always more than just another game on the schedule.


  1. Not a rivalry unless one of the teams wins every once in a while. In the end, visits to Norfolk were charity -- guaranteed big crowd where few others existed. And many people cheering for UT. ODU in the really really big games remains a place people come to cheer the visitor. But it's changing, I believe, for the men.

  2. Big mistake! It's a loss for the players and the fans... Where else can the fans get to see a historically rich and famous team play - except possibly when we host a tournament where ODU is not a player. Traditions are not easily forges - especially one like this. This is a big loss for ODU and I'm saddened. I really question just how long I'll remain an ODU Lady Monarch fan. I see no light at the end of the tunnel!

    1. So you're only a fan of the team as long as they are good? No rebuilding ever allowed? No down years? If it takes 3-4 years for them to return to the top 25, will you renew your fandom then? Thanks for proving my point that the last few years UT-ODU in Norfolk was as much about people coming to see the Vols as to see the LMs beat them -- cause they knew it wasn't happening.

    2. I have supported the Lady Monarchs since for over 25 years. Things change though. I lost a great deal of respect and allegiance for the program with the way the front office treated Coach Larry. So a part of my disappointment is not only with the team, but the new management!

  3. We can't deny that it's disappointing that ODU isn't on Tennessee's schedule anymore. But let's not forget that while there has been a change in leadership at ODU, there has also been one at Tennessee, which could also explain why the series is coming to an end.