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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Old Dominion to join Conference USA

ESPN.com news services

Old Dominion is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association and joining Conference USA.

The move will be effective July 1, 2013, school president John R. Broderick said in a release Thursday. The Monarchs, who restarted their football program only three seasons ago, will play one more season at the Football Championship Subdivision level and then play two seasons as an independent at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, starting in 2013, until it moves to Conference USA for football in 2015.

"We are extremely pleased to add Old Dominion to Conference USA," commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a statement. "They are a tremendous university with, not only a great tradition in athletics, but an extremely bright future. Their leadership team has a bold vision for the University, which fits well with our plan for the future of the conference."

ODU becomes the second school to leave the CAA this week. VCU announced Tuesday that it is heading to the Atlantic 10 in July 2012, and the league faces the likelihood of having UNC Wilmington and Towson banned from postseason play in men's basketball next season for not meeting the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate. Those penalties will be announced late next month.

"We saw this as a game changer for us relative to football reclassification and also a way to enhance the majority of all of our 16 intercollegiate athletic programs," ODU athletic director Wood Selig told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "Sometimes conference moves are all about assisting one sport, perhaps two, this was a move that greatly enhanced our national visibility and opportunities across the majority of our programs relative to competing at the highest level possible."

CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said Thursday that the Monarchs will have to pay a $250,000 exit fee and forfeiture of $400,000 in revenue distribution this year. However, Monarchs boosters have already pledged $3 million in private support to help meet the school's expenses, which will include added football scholarships, Broderick said.

The move also will be made without an increase in student fees, he said, which was among the factors he viewed as critical while the school studied the impact the change would make.

"While the university was not actively seeking a change, recent events necessitated an earlier consideration of our future, and in particular, for our football program," Broderick said in the release. "C-USA's invitation provided the right opportunity at the right time to reclassify our football program and broaden the national footprint of our athletic program."

Details of ODU's move are not yet finalized, Broderick said, including finding homes for its sports that are not offered by C-USA.

Based on CAA bylaws, ODU will not be allowed to compete in any championship sport next season. The same bylaw applies to Georgia State, which is leaving for the Sun Belt in 2013-14. That bylaw was the reason VCU pushed up its exit to July 1.

ODU men's basketball coach Blaine Taylor told ESPN.com that he was hopeful "cooler heads would prevail" and the league would allow the Monarchs to compete for the conference tournament title.

"I would hope they would revisit that," Taylor said. "We've been in this league a long time."

Echoing Taylor's desire to push the CAA to overturn its bylaw banning a departing member from playing in the conference tournament, Selig said: "There are several in the league, even some who are not looking to move, who believe the rule is too restrictive and punitive for student athletes. We will work with those similar in thought."

Taylor said that the Monarchs could be ready to go to C-USA immediately, but the football program, which is being bumped up a level, isn't.

Taylor said he believes the CAA will be fine without VCU and ODU. George Mason decided to stay instead of pursuing possible membership in the Atlantic 10. A source close to the process told ESPN.com that the athletic department wanted to make the jump but the president did not.

"Basketball-only schools are a rare breed now," Taylor said. "They are like the white buffalo."

Taylor believes the ODU basketball program will be the first to show whether it can compete for a title in C-USA. The conference will look considerably different in 2013 with the departures of Memphis, Southern Methodist, Houston and Central Florida to the Big East, and the additions of ODU, Charlotte, Texas-San Antonio, North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana Tech to join existing members Rice, UTEP, East Carolina, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, Marshall and Alabama-Birmingham.

The CAA, which is expected to pursue Charleston and Davidson out of the Southern Conference and possibly Boston University and/or Stony Brook out of the America East, will be left with Drexel, George Mason, Delaware, Northeastern, James Madison, UNC Wilmington, William and Mary, Hofstra and Towson in 2013.

Towson and Wilmington are ineligible for the 2013 postseason due to low APR scores, but Towson is appealing the penalty. If Georgia State and ODU both are barred for leaving, per bylaws, then the conference tournament will have only seven teams eligible in 2013.

Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.