ODU Wants JMU
Posted: February 14, 2013
HARRISONBURG — Old Dominion is leaving the Division I-AA Colonial Athletic Association next football season for I-A Conference USA, and coach Bobby Wilder would like James Madison to go, too.
During a live chat on the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot’s website last week, Wilder, responding to a fan’s question, said he was “hopeful” JMU would “eventually” join the Monarchs in C-USA.
On Tuesday, Wilder clarified, saying that he didn’t have any inside information; he just thought JMU, with its 25,000-seat stadium and standing as one of the country’s top I-AA programs, would be a good fit.
“They were just the one that seemed like the next in the progression to me. That’s all,” Wilder said. “It wasn’t that I knew anything; it wasn’t that someone had told me they were considering it. It wasn’t any of that stuff. It was just a simple response to a question from somebody online.”
The fan question: If you could recommend one team from the CAA to move up and join you in the C-USA, who would it be?
Wilder’s response: “I am hopeful that eventually James Madison will make the move to Conference USA. I believe, like [East Carolina], that would create a tremendous natural rival that would be good for the league and also good for both schools.”
Bad news for Wilder: Madison isn’t even interested in scheduling the Monarchs as a non-conference opponent in the near future.
Wilder pegging JMU as a school that could move from I-AA to I-A isn’t a surprise, or a new idea. I-A leagues — including the Mid-American Conference and the Western Athletic Conference — have sought to gauge Madison’s interest in jumping to college football’s top classification. JMU officials, however, have shown little interest in making any moves until I-A realignment runs its course.
Madison athletic director Jeff Bourne on Tuesday declined to address Wilder’s comments or a potential I-A move. JMU football coach Mickey Matthews could not be reached for comment.
Still, Madison would appear to be a logical choice, because of its stadium, attendance and commitment to football. JMU also has an athletics budget — about $34.5 million — that exceeds that of several I-A schools. For example, Northern Illinois, the 2012 MAC champion that played Florida State in the Orange Bowl, had an athletic budget of $20.4 million last year. Old Dominion’s budget was $34.3 million.
It’s also easy to see why Wilder would want Madison in Conference USA. The league, which Old Dominion joins for football full-time in 2014 after a transitional 2013, has suffered mass defections since the Monarchs announced in May their decision to join. It’s left ODU with no nearby opponents except for North Carolina-Charlotte. ECU is moving to the Big East.
If JMU joined C-USA, it would give Old Dominion a rival that’s only four hours away. Among C-USA’s newest additions: Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Texas-San Antonio.
So it’s no surprise that Wilder also said he wants to keep JMU as a non-conference opponent. The two schools have played just twice, with ODU — which restarted is football program in 2009 — winning in 2011 and 2012, but the two teams became fast rivals, thanks, in part, to a shared recruiting base in Hampton Roads.
“I would love to continue to play them,” Wilder said. “We’re going to try our best to work something out non-league eventually down the road. If it could ever be that we would be in the same league again, I would personally, just speaking for myself, would look forward to that, because I think there’s just so much that the two schools have going from a competitive standpoint in all sports.”
It doesn’t look like either of those things — a non-conference game or a conference game — will happen anytime soon.
First, James Madison, at least for the near future, has committed to I-AA and the CAA, even voting last June to raise the exit fee from $250,000 to $1 million.
Regarding a potential non-league meeting with ODU, Bourne said the Dukes are already in negotiations with I-A opponents for as far ahead as 2017. Playing BCS conference schools such as Virginia Tech and West Virginia guarantees Madison sizeable paychecks, something a low-level I-A school such as Old Dominion would not do.
Madison has I-A foes scheduled for 2013 (Akron) and 2014 (Maryland). Bourne said nothing beyond 2014 had been finalized and wouldn’t say which schools are targets for 2015 and beyond.
“Our schedule’s getting pretty well set,” Bourne said. “We’re working with some negotiations with the games through 2016-17, so it would be years until [an ODU game]. Most of the I-A [teams], we either have scheduled or have pretty close to getting finalized.”
When asked if he was interested in scheduling Old Dominion, Bourne said he wouldn’t “totally write it off as an opportunity for the future” and that “we’ll wait and see how things work out.”
Wilder also said he didn’t know when a game could happen.
“We’re still trying to formulate the non-league schedule once we join Conference USA in ’14,” he said. “But I’ve made the statement and I stand behind it. I want to play James Madison in the future as a non-league game.”
But as a conference rival? That, at least for the moment, is wishful thinking.