Old Dominion athletic officials are likely to learn in the coming days if the football team will be eligible for the league title a year early in their new home, Conference USA, as league officials and athletic directors meet in Miami.
ODU athletic director Wood Selig said that he has had conversations with several of his new counterparts in C-USA and all have been in favor of the Monarchs being able to compete for the title in 2014.
"I anticipate while I'm down here that there will be formal conversations to clarify Old Dominion's eligibility to compete for the conference championship," Selig said Monday en route to the meetings.
Old Dominion originally faced a two-year transition into the Football Bowl Subdivision and Conference USA and would not be eligible for the title until 2015. But conference officials aided the Monarchs in scheduling, and they will play a full, eight-game C-USA slate in 2014.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told the Virginian-Pilot that he was in favor of allowing the Monarchs to compete for the title, and that he, too, had heard no reservations about doing so from informal conversations with officials at various schools.
"I'm incredibly excited with the thought that all the kids in our (upcoming) junior class, Taylor Heinicke's class, could be eligible for a conference title as seniors," ODU football coach Bobby Wilder said. "A lot of those kids have been critical to our success and helped us get to the playoffs two years in a row.
"They were looking at the possibility that they wouldn't be able to compete for a title for their last two years, but this is a tremendous incentive."
Competing for a conference title a year early also changes ODU's recruiting dynamic. As the program moves from the FCS-level maximum of 63 scholarship players to the 85 scholarships permitted in FBS, Wilder and the staff have targeted junior college players at certain positions, for both a quick upgrade of talent and to help balance academic classes.
Opposing coaches have told ODU's junior college recruits that they wouldn't be eligible for championships or bowls in their final two seasons. If C-USA approves ODU's early eligibility, Wilder said it levels the playing field a bit and removes a big obstacle in recruiting.
Selig called this week's meetings "very important for us" — meaning both ODU and Conference USA. He said that among the primary topics are the league's various bowl alliances and future TV contracts, as well as membership.
Six teams have left Conference USA for the Big East in the past two years, including East Carolina and Tulane. Several other C-USA schools have been linked to the Big East, which apparently will splinter along basketball and football lines.
The Big East's so-called Catholic 7 basketball schools intend to depart and target a handful of other schools for a power basketball league, which will leave the remaining football-playing schools with decisions about how to proceed and whom to target.
"With the rampant movement in college athletics these days, I've given up trying to predict what's going to happen," Selig said. "I think you have to focus on your present home and try to make that the best possible situation."
In its present form, C-USA will be a 16-team league in the fall of 2013, with Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State joining a year earlier than anticipated. ODU will compete in most sports, including men's and women's basketball, starting with the 2013-14 school year.
Selig said that the current plan is to play a 16-game conference basketball schedule — 15 different opponents and one team twice. Presently, he said it appears that ODU will face Marshall home-and-home next season.
When ECU and Tulane leave after next season, Conference USA will be a 14-team league, barring further defections. Selig said that the league could operate with 12 teams, in the event more schools depart. The league must have at least 12 football-playing schools in order to hold a conference title game, which Banowsky told the Virginian-Pilot is the aim in 2014.
Selig said that ODU continues to try to flesh out its 2013 football schedule. The Monarchs have 10 games on the books and aim for 12 — likely one more FCS opponent (home) and an FBS opponent (road). If they cannot land an FBS opponent, they would attempt to schedule a seventh home game, Selig said.