Old Dominion AD Wood Selig talks Conference USA, WKU’s profile and future realignment

I had the chance to talk Thursday night with Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig, who spent nearly 11 years as AD at Western Kentucky until his departure in 2010.

It’s hard to believe Selig is now two athletic directors removed at WKU, with Ross Bjork and Todd Stewart filling the role since he left, but it’s still been less than three years since he was in charge of athletics on the Hill.

Selig has led Old Dominion, previously at the Football Championship Series level, into a membership in Conference USA that begins July 1, 2013.

Selig seemed like just the person to comment on Conference USA, the Sun Belt – which has seen several members defect for C-USA – as well as Western Kentucky’s role in all this, and how the Hilltoppers stack up with more conference shifts likely coming down the road.

I also talked to Selig about his WKU football hire, coach Willie Taggart, and how life is going at ODU. Enjoy.

WOOD SELIG, Old Dominion athletic director

How do you feel about the current state of C-USA?

“I really like the direction of Conference USA. The additions that Conference USA has made have been very similar in that they’re large, metropolitan universities in large, metropolitan media markets. … You’re talking about some of the top major media markets and upcoming metro universities with medical schools and dozens of doctoral programs. It’s universities and athletic programs on the rise.”

Just how important are media markets in all of this?

“They’re trying to build their TV value – their cable network value. It’s all eyeballs and TV households. Those are primary factors for expansion, and they also want to get quality academic institutions that either fit within their footprint or strategically allow them to expand their footprint.”

Are you expecting more expansion in the near future?

“I think conference expansion is not going to be driven by those below the line, and by below the line, I mean you have your top five – the ones playing for national championship and the ones that have automatic ties. Those that are above the line are driving everything relative to college athletics right now. If four of those elect to go to 16-member institutions, that’s going to dictate what everyone else does. I don’t think it really matters what Conference USA or the Sun Belt may or may not want.

What we get may very well be dictated by if the Big Ten, and I fully expect it might, says 14 teams isn’t enough. And then the SEC may say 14 isn’t good enough for it either. And where are they going to get the new schools from? It’s hard to forecast where all this is headed.”

What do you see as WKU’s greatest assets and biggest drawbacks as it maneuvers through realignment?

“Greatest selling points are investment in athletics, community support of athletics in attendance, quality facilities, extremely competitive – both now and historically. There are a lot of selling points. Drawbacks might be large, metro universities, and I mean specific to Conference USA. They do not fit the profile of what Conference USA has been going for recently.”

How closely do you follow WKU these days?

“I hired a number of the coaches that are there now. I follow WKU daily. I communicate with administrators and coaches on a regular basis, so I’m very much in tune with WKU and still very invested in its future success. To me, it’s still very personal.”

What are your thoughts on the WKU football program and your former hire, Willie Taggart?

“I think Willie is a star in the football coaching industry. He’s got a great pedigree. He had a great playing career at WKU, and he’s done nothing but have success as a coach. I think he’s got nothing but greatness ahead of him. It’s rewarding to see him help WKU achieve the success that we all felt we could when we decided to move from I-AA to I-A.

“We all knew there would be growing pains along the way and knew it wouldn’t be an overnight sensation. I think we all underestimated the length of time and perhaps the course that we should take from I-AA to I-A. But Willie was the right guy at the right time for WKU.”

Any more thoughts on the Sun Belt schools Conference USA has accepted?

“You can’t argue with the success that WKU has enjoyed within the Sun Belt Conference. Middle Tennessee has been a dominant program whether WKU wants to admit it or not, and I’m part of that WKU group that may not want to admit that. Conference USA has added a major metro market in Nashville and the dominant program in the Sun Belt Conference. And then they’ve added the second or third best in North Texas, just outside Dallas. FIU has had very big success in football in Miami.”

For you personally and professionally, how is life at ODU?

“For one, I grew up five blocks from the office that I now occupy at Old Dominion. It was coming home. … But as I watched Old Dominion from afar, I think it was a move with tremendous upside potential and a great future. I was excited to be a part of maybe helping maximize the potential of ODU. It was the same way I felt when I joined WKU.”

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