Conference realignment has created a state of perpetual upward mobility in college football. As Rutgers, Maryland and Louisville move into new conferences at the top of the food chain, the ripple effects are felt at the top of the FCS level as schools like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are pulled into the Sun Belt Conference.
One of the schools riding ripples into FBS created by tidal waves at the top is Old Dominion. The school, then a two-year branch of William & Mary, played football from 1930-40 but ultimately dropped the sport. After a near 70-year absence, the school jumped back into the game in 2009 and, in its quest to compete at the big-time level, is determined to get things right this time.
First, look at the product on the field. Under head coach Bobby Wilder, the Monarchs have never won less than eight games in a season. Competing first as an FCS Independent and then as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, Old Dominion has compiled a 38-10 record in its four seasons, reaching the FCS playoffs in 2011 and 2012.
Next, look at the support the program has received from the community. In 2012, Old Dominion was one of 15 FCS programs to draw an average of greater than 100 percent of stadium capacity. In eight home games, the Monarchs attracted a total of more than 160,000 fans, placing fourth nationally with an average of 20,037 spectators per game.
Finally, but most importantly, look at the support from the athletic department to the coaching staff. In addition to bumping the pay and contract of Wilder, ODU athletic director Wood Selig and president John Broderick are reportedly committed to increasing the salary pool for Wilder's assistants.
“We can’t hire coaches who’ve had success at the highest level unless you’d got the support of university community and our athletic and university leadership,” Wilder said. “It just wouldn’t have happened.”
Last season, the 11-2 Monarchs led FCS in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense but were undone in the playoffs in a 49-35 quarterfinals loss to Georgia Southern. To fix a unit that ranked 94th in total defense and 89th in scoring defense, Wilder hired former Boston College defensive line coach Jeff Commissiong and former Western Michigan defensive coordinator Rich Nagy to lead a re-tooled defensive staff.
With a 2013 schedule that includes East Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh and North Carolina, the program is making preparations for its move to Conference USA in 2014. Paying for a top-flight staff is key in those preparations.
“We have to improve our salaries,” Selig said earlier this year, “if we want to be competitive in Conference USA.”