Monday, July 1, 2013

ODU in Conference USA: Grab a (plane) ticket

It's after midnight and Old Dominion is officially a member of Conference USA.

Crazy, isn't it? We're not disagreeing with the decision that was made -- football making decisions is no surprise, it's the reality of college athletics, and the CAA unraveling with the losses of VCU and then George Mason didn't make for a stable climate. 

But we can't help but think it was all so tidy once. The CAA was a bus league for a long while -- the farthest trip once upon a time was a six-hour ride to Wilmington. It made all the sense in the world that conference foes and rivalries were with James Madison, William and Mary, VCU and a while back, Richmond and American. How very logical to be playing schools and programs that your alumni are familiar with, that are up the road apiece.

Now the landscape is rather chaotic. The field hockey team is in the Big East. ODU wrestling is in the Mid-American conference. ODU lacrosse is an Atlantic Sun member.

And the sport we write about -- women's basketball -- will have the Lady Monarchs playing North Texas, Rice and Tulane. UAB, Tulsa and UTEP. East Carolina is within reasonable driving distance, but the Pirates will flee C-USA for the league formerly known as the Big East in 2014-15.  So if you're interested in seeing a conference road game, book a hotel. The drive to Charlotte takes a while. Better yet, book a flight.

LadySwish is admittedly a sentimentalist but a realist, too, and it doesn't take an expert on NCAA athletics to realize this decision had nothing to do with women's basketball though it could ultimately be a steppingstone for a program vying to becoming nationally relevant again.

But there was a time not too long ago when a game against James Madison was must-see, when a conference game against the Dukes was often a precurser to the CAA championship. Particularly in the last few years of ODU's historic 17 consecutive CAA title run, there were times when hanging on to that CAA title seemed a matter of life and death even disbelief. Remember ODU's whole front line fouling out, a walk-on in as point guard, a sizable halftime lead by Delaware and alas, Shareese Grant's 35 points ensuring the streak would live on? Good times for women's basketball in the CAA and an elevated game thanks to ODU setting the standard so high.

Maybe the competition will be better in C-USA, maybe all the sports and the school will one day be better off, maybe this is the first step to the big time that is so attractive to the decision makers in college athletics. 

Right decision? Who are we to say. We don't cheer it; we don't jeer it. Road trips aren't road trips anymore; they're plane trips. Yes, ODU will go on without the CAA, and the CAA will go on without ODU. But tidy, logical, simple? That's over.

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