The biggest upset of 2018 so far was 0-3 Old Dominion knocking off No. 13 Virginia Tech, 49-35. It was ODU’s first Power 5 win ever, and obviously a huge success for a team that opened the season by getting clobbered by Liberty.
One factor that probably helped the Monarchs? They got Virginia Tech to play at their place.
On the surface, this seems strange. What’s Virginia Tech, who plays in a stadium with more than 65,000 capacity, doing slumming it in the backyard of a Conference USA team? Isn’t that just asking for trouble?
Virginia Tech had some good reasons for this. Like recruiting.
Old Dominion is in Norfolk, Virginia. The greater Southeast Virginia area, with cities like Newport News, Hampton, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, etc, is home to some of the best high school recruits in the state, and has been especially important for Virginia Tech. The Vicks? DeAngelo Hall? Tyrod Taylor? They all hail from the region, and Tech needs to continue to be successful in that area. Playing a game a little closer to recruits would be beneficial.
“I’ve always said if we have an opportunity to play schools within the state, we’re going to do that...That program has great potential. Old Dominion is located in a good market, and the high school football there is outstanding. They’ve got a chance to recruit very good players there.
It’s also good for some Virginia Tech fans.
The region isn’t just full of recruits, it’s full of Tech alumni or sidewalk fans. If you can’t make the hike to Blacksburg, a good 4.5-hour drive from Norfolk, getting a chance to see your team locally would be pretty cool.
Plus, there’s the idea of helping out another in-state, public institution. From Selig:
“Virginia Tech was the first (Power Five) program that we signed to a football series...and that’s a reflection of Jim Weaver and how classy a gentleman he was. He talked to Frank Beamer, and they said, ‘You know, we can help Old Dominion out by scheduling them.’
Virginia Tech isn’t a historical blue-blood. Most fans probably remember a time when they were in flux, in conference realignment hell, and really benefited from bigger programs occasionally giving them a game. Virginia Tech hasn’t been afraid to continue to play smaller, regional programs, like East Carolina, and this series could be another win-win relationship.
This series has already been huge for Old Dominion. After this series was announced, North Carolina and North Carolina State played road games at Norfolk, and Wake Forest and Virginia will play in the coming season. Again, via Minium:
“What coach Beamer did told people in the ACC it was OK to schedule us,” Selig said. “It did so much to help us transition our program.”
Power conference teams playing occasional road games at non-power schools isn’t new.
Virginia Tech isn’t alone here. Programs like Utah, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Miami, Indiana, Syracuse and others have road games scheduled with Group of 5 programs. Some of those may be for recruiting reasons (it makes sense for a program that recruits Florida or Louisiana to occasionally play a road game at say, South Florida or Tulane) but others have nothing to do with connecting to distant alumni or recruits.
Guaranteed, one-off games are increasingly expensive, and playing a home and home or two for one allows a major conference school to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in guarantees. The smaller school gets a home game. Everybody wins.
Well, except Virginia Tech in this particular game. They lost.
If you’re a Virginia Tech fan that is mad about this, I’ve got bad news for you.
This game isn’t going away. Virginia Tech and Old Dominion are playing again next year, and then every year from 2022-2031. That includes five future trips to Old Dominion.