Old Dominion on the Move to Sun Belt Conference

After spending the last eight years in C-USA, it was recently announced at a press conference on Oct. 28 that ODU accepted the invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. In 2012 – 2013, Old Dominion leaped from the Football Championship Series in the Colonial Athletic Association up to the Football Bowl Subdivision to join Conference USA. Along with ODU, Marshall and Southern Miss announced that they were also leaving Conference USA to join the Monarchs in the Sun Belt. About a week later, James Madison announced their invitation and became the league’s 14th member and the final addition to the Sun Belt. 


“Joining the Sun Belt Conference is a game-changer for Old Dominion University and our athletic program. We are excited about the expanded opportunities and limitless possibilities now and well into the future,” ODU President Brian Hemphill stated. “They made it very clear to me that we needed to think about, “is this [Conference USA] the right fit for the student-athlete experience when you think about the travel, when you think about traditional rivalries”?


ODU will compete in the Sun Belt East Division. This will give the Monarchs a more regionally focused group of schools to play against, rather than the East Division in C-USA. Football in the Sun Belt is going to be the nation’s best Group of Five Division. This is also a good move for ODU Athletics, primarily because the proximity of the East Division teams reduces travel costs and less missed classes for student athletes. ODU will finally have a home in the FBS with regional rivals that will matter to fans.


ODU is also joining a league with a recognizable national reputation. The Sun Belt is also referred to as the ‘Fun Belt’. That’s in part because the league plays several mid-week games on national TV that are fun to watch. Recently, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina faced off on ESPN with 31,000+ in attendance. The game went down to the final second, with the Mountaineers winning by a game-winning field goal that resulted in fans rushing the field. In retrospect, the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) has one team ranked in the top 25, while the Sun Belt has two ranked. 

Nicholas Clark

When asked about the addition of Old Dominion to the Sun Belt, Commissioner Keith Gill was excited for what the Monarchs can bring to the conference. “We are thrilled to welcome Old Dominion University to the Sun Belt. ODU brings a host of strengths to our conference. They have comprehensive success. They’ve collected many championships. They will have natural rivals in our footprint,” Gill stated. 


Looking deeper into the East Division of the Sun Belt, Marshall is Conference USA’s traditional football powerhouse. The Monarchs have considered the ‘Herd’ their biggest C-USA rival. Appalachian State is a powerhouse in the east. They not only have a diehard fan base, but they are the national name that upset Michigan in 2007. Coastal Carolina has spent much of the last two seasons in the top 25. Georgia Southern, another traditional football powerhouse, is the team that knocked both ODU and Taylor Heinicke out of the FCS playoffs. Their fans are passionate, and the program has won six FCS national titles. 


On the west side of the Sun Belt there is Troy, who is in the East Division and will move to the West Division once the expansion is official. Arkansas State has won over 450 games, appeared in seven bowl games, and claimed 11 conference championships. Arkansas State’s most recent conference championship came in 2016 as they claimed their fifth title in six years. Texas State is the furthest school out west and is rebuilding their football program under head coach Jake Spavital. Southern Miss was the first school to join the Sun Belt from C-USA and has had a rich sports history in football and baseball. Louisiana Lafayette is a powerhouse on the west side of the Sun Belt conference and have won nine conference championship games. They won the New Orleans Bowl four straight times from 2011-2014. Louisiana-Monroe has one national championship in its school history, dating back to 1987 when the football team won it all. 2012 is the only season that ULM has had a winning season since the move to the FBS. 


While the Sun Belt isn’t as strong in men’s basketball as it is in football, the league was ranked ahead of Conference USA in four of the last six seasons. The men and women’s tournaments are held on different dates and not at the same time, as Conference USA ran their tournaments. It gave the fans an opportunity to watch more action on both the men and women’s side.  


Sunbelt baseball is one to be on the lookout for. They are a multi-bid league that includes 2016 national champions Coastal Carolina. This also includes strong programs at South Alabama and Louisiana. The addition of Southern Miss adds to the strength of the league. The Monarch Baseball team has added more value to the league, after a deep run into the postseason in 2021.


Men’s soccer in the Sun Belt will be one of the nation’s best leagues and will be anchored by Marshall, the 2020 national champion. Men and women’s golf and men and women’s tennis will also be joining competitive leagues, as will volleyball and women’s soccer. 


The Sun Belt also chose ESPN as its sole TV provider, while C-USA has chosen to divide its TV rights with other networks. Every Sun Belt football and men and women’s basketball game is on an ESPN platform. The Sun Belt men’s basketball semifinals and finals are on an ESPN national network. Earlier this football season, the ODU and Marshall matchup was streamed on Facebook, which is not an ideal place for fans to watch their teams play. 


The realignment process all started with the University of Texas and Oklahoma, when they shocked the college sports world and decided to leave the Big 12 to go to the SEC (Southeastern Conference). The Big 12 responded to the departures by bringing in Central Florida, Houston, and Cincinnati from the AAC (American Athletic Conference). The AAC then turned toward Conference USA and took six schools. They welcomed in Florida Atlantic, Texas-San Antonio, Charlotte, Rice, North Texas and the University of Alabama Birmingham. C-USA had 14 schools in their conference before the whole realignment. Now, it stands at five schools, with the departures to the AAC and Sun Belt conferences. The C-USA is in the process of searching for more schools to join the conference in hopes of saving it. 


It will be very exciting to see the Monarchs transition into the new league. They will face new regional opponents in the east that will lead to building old and new rivalries. Joining this conference is huge for ODU, and with ESPN being the primary coverage for the school, things are bound to move forward. Old Dominion will officially join the Sun Belt Conference no later than July 1, 2023.