Sunday, June 24, 2012
UVa's London expects Monarchs to experience growing pains
"It's going to take a couple of years for Old Dominion to increase its brand," the UVa football coach said.
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Aaron McFarling's blog
Monarchs court major prospects
Word of Old Dominion's jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision level was received with more than passing interest by one of the state's current FBS coaches, the University of Virginia's Mike London.
"First of all, I know [ODU coach] Bobby Wilder," London said. "He's a personal friend of mine. We've got the same agent."
Moreover, when it was decided that Old Dominion would reinstate its football program after a 69-year absence, Monarchs' officials interviewed London in the winter of 2007.
London, then the defensive coordinator at UVa, withdrew his name from consideration.
Within weeks, Old Dominion hired Wilder, represented by Dennis Cordell of Coaches Inc., to take over a program slated to begin play at the Football Championship Subdivision (previously Division I-AA) level in 2009.
"The consideration of playing Division I-A football never came up in my discussions with ODU," London said. "It was all about start-up plans. To Bobby's credit, he started riding a wave and the administration decided to 'go for it.'"
Old Dominion went 9-2, 8-3 and 10-3 in Wilder's first three seasons and this year reached the second round of the NCAA playoffs.
That was followed by the May 17 announcement that Old Dominion would be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association and begin playing at the FCS level in 2013 as a member of Confererence USA.
ODU will become the third FBS school in Virginia, joining Virginia and Virginia Tech, although Liberty has announced plans to make a similar jump in classification.
One of the biggest differences in the classification is scholarship limitations. Teams at the FBS level can have as many as 85 scholarship players, all on "full rides."
FCS teams can have the equivalent of 63 full scholarships, many of them partial grants divided between no more than 85 players.
"Going from I-AA to I-A, you've got a lot of growing pains," said London, who won a Division I-AA championship in 2008 in his first of two seasons at the University of Richmond. "It's a matter of facilities, stadium size and scheduling."
London pointed out that Wilder's first recruiting efforts at Old Dominion were centered on players who would come to school and just practice in 2008, the year before Old Dominion started playing games.
"The kids they're recruiting now, they'll be starting their career in I-AA," he added.
Clearly. ODU has been able to compete for players with other Virginia teams in the CAA. Now, they'll be in the same classification as UVa and Virginia Tech, who play in the ACC.
"I've been [to ODU's facility] a couple of times," said London, whose team held a spring practice at ODU in 2011. "It's a beautiful location, by the water, with a student body and fan base to support it.
"But, in the same way that it's taken years for Virginia and Virginia Tech to brag about who we are, it's going to take a couple of years for Old Dominion to increase its brand."
The Monarchs won't just be competing for I-A talent with Tech and UVa, London said, but with fellow Conference USA member East Carolina and ACC programs like North Carolina and N.C. State.
"I've always said that Virginia is big enough for two teams," London said. "ODU will add another option, just like the I-A programs that have sprung up in Florida."
For years, there were three Division I-A programs in Florida - the University of Florida, Florida State and Miami.
Now there are seven, including Central Florida in Conference USA. The others are South Florida (Big East), Florida International (Sun Belt) and Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt).
Of the big three, only Miami is playing one of the other four (South Florida) this coming season. As much as winning seasons and bowl appearances may increase a team's profile, legitimacy often is a matter of scheduling.
When will UVa or Tech play Old Dominion?
"I'll tell you what, their people have called about future schedules but there's no commitment now," London said. "With the ACC adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse and trying to get those teams on the schedule, that's got to be the first priority. It's really tricky right now."