Thursday, June 11, 2009

ODU Moves Forward

Old Foreman Field in its heyday, circa 1945

A lot of Americans, even sports fans, spend a lot of time discussing the very validity of college athletics.

Football seems to be under siege at a number of schools across the country, and the recent economic downturn isn't making the arguments for football easier, at least for those who don't have all the facts at their fingertips.

Enter Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Years ago, the school noticed that despite a raucous and spirited undergraduate lifestyle, a paltry number of alumni were staying connected to school. Even fewer were donating money.

So ODU sent out a questionnaire asking the alums what the #1 thing the school could do to get them more interested.

The top answer?

"Start football."

And so, after many decades of just wishing for it, Old Dominion will begin varsity football this fall.

The Monarchs will play as an independent team until 2011, when they will join the CAA, (home of teams like Towson and Richmond).

ODU already has 33 scholarship players on full or partial scholarship; 18 more arrive in August. The remaining 22 scholarships are being saved for future classes. (A total of 63).

Foreman Field, pre-Renovation

Foreman Field, a renovated version of the old Foreman Stadium will seat about 20,000 people for football. It cost $24.8 million for the renovation.

Foreman Field originally cost $300,000 to build and was completed in 1934 as part of a Public Works project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” (The original stimulus plan).

And get this, ODU has received 14,859 season-ticket applications for this season. No Ivy team comes close to that kind of season ticket to total seats ratio.

The football program’s '09-10 operating budget is projected to be $2.5 million. Ticket sales will cover about $1.4 million of that; suite sales another $540,000. The difference will be covered by student fees and private donations.

The prices for a single-game ticket: $20 for adults, $15 for 17 and younger.

ODU could begin scheduling games against BCS schools like Virginia and Virginia Tech as early as 2016.

I first wrote about the ODU story when I first heard about it 2007.

Since then, the school has met every published goal from fixing up the stadium to getting the local community behind the team and the program.

ODU will be the fifth school to start a Division I football program this decade. In 2001, Florida Atlantic went 4-6. Florida International was 5-6 in 2002, followed by Coastal Carolina (6-5 in 2003) and Campbell (1-10 last season). Of those four, Florida Atlantic’s attendance was highest, at 12,987 a game; Campbell was lowest at 3,683.

Artist's rendering of the new Foreman Field

ODU was originally scheduled to play Cornell this season, but that game was later scrapped. The Monarchs will travel to New York City to play Fordham on October 3rd.

Will any Ivies, including Columbia ever put ODU on their schedule? I'd love to see the Lions play the Monarchs, but I'm biased.

My dad used to teach at ODU when we lived in Norfolk in the late 1970's-early 1980's. I used to always wonder what they would ever do with that big stadium at the entrance of campus. I think they used for graduation and nothing else. For a time, they played a college all-star game sponsored by the Shriners called the Oyster Bowl, but that ended in the mid 1990's.

Good luck Monarchs, we'll be watching you closely.


At Tue Jun 16, 11:21:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, I feel sheepish asking whether you have any interest in doing a bit of research that I am perfectly capable of doing myself. But I am curious how the attendance figures at the new football playing schools Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Coastal Carolina and Campbell have tracked in the years since their inaugural seasons.

In particular, I wonder whether the numbers trailed off after the initial novelty wore off.

I'm fascinated that Old Dominion alumni were so focussed on football as a means to stay connected to their college but I wonder if having one's alma mater play football is important when they are NOT playing but becomes less of a big deal once it is a reality.


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