Old Dominion, through no fault of its own, is in a jam, and don't let anyone con you otherwise. The Monarchs can remain in a conference many believe is on life-support, or join a league of scattered wannabes that requires a premature upgrade to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Colonial Athletic Association or Conference USA. A long-time home that soon may lose your two fiercest rivals, or picked-over remnants frantically adding schools to remain viable.
Would you like liver or sardines for dinner, Mr. Selig?
OK, perhaps ODU's impending choice isn't that bleak. Maybe, just maybe, either road could prove golden.
If university president John Broderick, athletic director Wood Selig and the Board of Visitors elect to stay put, perhaps VCU and George Mason, the CAA's other basketball powers, curb their wanderlust and commit long-term. A stable CAA is the best-case scenario for all the Monarchs' programs, and were VCU and George Mason not flirting with the Atlantic 10, ODU wouldn't be contemplating such a radical change.
If Broderick and company opt for Conference USA, perhaps football recovers from initial batterings and develops compelling rivalries against East Carolina and Charlotte, replacing those already in place against neighboring Hampton, Norfolk State and, especially, William and Mary. Maybe men's basketball thrives as it did in the old Sun Belt Conference, which included far-flung opponents such as Alabama-Birmingham, South Alabama, South Florida and Jacksonville.
But there's no denying the peril along both paths.
If VCU and George Mason bail for the Atlantic 10, CAA basketball becomes virtually untenable for ODU. Sure, James Madison and William and Mary are traditional and in-state conference opponents, but the Dukes are in an extended funk, while the Tribe staggers more years than not.
Could the CAA replace VCU and George Mason with programs of similar quality? Davidson from the Southern Conference might fit; otherwise, good luck.
But Conference USA would send ODU to a league that lost four schools, one-third of its membership, to the Big East and countered Friday by adding five. Its frequent-flyer footprint soon will include Oklahoma,Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, West Virginia and, perhaps, Virginia.
Moreover, neither Conference USA football or men's basketball inspires.
The Rating Percentage Index published at CollegeRPI.com has ranked CAA basketball higher than Conference USA twice in the last three years, and the latter's foremost program, Memphis, is Big East-bound.
Last football season, Conference USA champion Southern Mississippi played in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The league also placed teams in the Beef 'O' Brady's, TicketCity, BBVA Compass and Bell Helicopter Armed Forces bowls.
Are those postseason Siberias better than the Championship Subdivision playoffs? Uh, no.
ODU's football ceiling in the CAA is a national title. ODU's ceiling in Conference USA is a third-rate bowl that might kick at 11 a.m. or 11 p.m., depending on ESPN's whims.
The athletic director at Western Kentucky for 11 years prior to his July 2010 arrival at ODU, Selig knows this first-hand.
From 1996-2007, Western Kentucky reveled in 12 consecutive winning football seasons. The Hilltoppers earned six Championship Subdivision playoff bids during that stretch and won the 2002 national title.
Since upgrading to the Bowl Subdivision, Western Kentucky is 11-37. After the move, the Hilltoppers lost their first 29 games against FBS opponents. Not even last season's 7-5 record could get them into a bowl.
ODU likely would share a Conference USA Eastern Division with East Carolina, Charlotte, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, UAB and Florida International. The Western Division then would include Texas-San Antonio, North Texas, Texas-El Paso, Rice, Tulane, Tulsa and Louisiana Tech.
East Carolina and Charlotte would be great. Otherwise …
And we haven't even mentioned the pachyderm in the room: money.
ODU's expenses for travel, scholarships (the Bowl Subdivision permits 85 football grants, 22 more than the Championship Subdivision), salaries, recruiting and infrastructure would skyrocket, and Conference USA's television revenue wouldn't dent the increase. Say goodbye to last season's $151 football season ticket. Say hello to $20 hot dogs and pay commodes, not only at Foreman Field but also the Constant Center for basketball.
But perhaps that is ODU's only play. Perhaps George Mason and VCU bolting for the A-10 is inevitable, the CAA is dead league walking and Conference USA represents the Monarchs' most palatable alternative.
There is also the possibility of the NCAA placing a moratorium, for as long as 10 years, on schools upgrading to the Bowl Subdivision. The Monarchs may not want to risk a decade in a CAA where mistrust among schools is at a new high.
What will/should ODU do? My old-school sensibilities say earn more football bona fides in the CAA and talk sense into VCU and George Mason.
The Monarchs have been playing football for three years, for goodness sake. What's the hurry to upgrade? This isn't Major League Baseball, and ODU isn't Bryce Harper.
But I'm not privy to the school's financial projections or back-channel discussions, if any, with VCU and George Mason. My hunch: Conference USA.
This much is certain: As in recent shifts in the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and other conferences, darn near everyone here is acting out of fear and suspicion, with a dash of greed and pinch of ambition tossed in for spice.
A combustible mix, to be sure.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times