There was a lot of surprise all over college football this past week when it was announced that Alabama was going to play a two-for-one series with South Florida that included a home game for the Bulls in Tampa in 2023.
Yes, that Alabama, the Alabama that will never play any non-conference team in their stadium for as long as they can get away with it, is playing the University of South Florida, a Group of 5 program, in their stadium. This, by the way, is in addition to USF already agreeing to deals this offseason that will also bring in-state programs like Miami and Florida to Tampa.
Of course, to many in the ecosystem of the football in the deep South and Southeast, this seems something only programs like Vanderbilt or Mississippi State would stoop to. Who could imagine Alabama doing something like this? Yet Alabama and Florida are seeing the benefit of playing a road game in a major area they recruit that not only gives them a chance for some of their own roster to play in their home area but also gives them a chance to show off in front of many talented recruits that they are targeting in that area in a way that is significantly less expensive for those local recruits.
Now some may think that Alabama is a trendsetter here but they're really not since the trend was set some seven years ago by, you guessed it, Virginia Tech and Old Dominion.
Back in December of 2012, Virginia Tech made a shocking move that launched a trend when they announced that they would play a 2-for-1 series with the Monarchs, including a historic trip to Norfolk to play an ODU program only a few years into its time in FBS football.
Now I'll be honest, I'm not sure what the reaction was like back in December of 2012 when the first VT-ODU deal was announced, I was a junior in high school and hadn't started covering Virginia Tech for FanSided's Fighting Gobbler.
However, I would imagine that it was somewhat similar to some of the reaction from Alabama fans after the USF announcement like this for example.
While many don't like this game because they feel playing on the road at a Group of 5 program is beneath their program, the late Jim Weaver said it best in 2012 when he told the Daily Press
that the main reason for scheduling this series was for the "exposure in a hotbed of high school football."
While there are definitely benefits for giving 757 Virginia Tech fans the chance to see the Hokies locally similar to playing games at FedEx Field for D.C. area fans, the number 1 objective was to get the Hokies in front of recruits in the 757 along with showing those recruits that they also could not only play at a major program at Virginia Tech but also have opportunities to play at home.
Yes, the result this year wasn't good for the Hokies at all but even the benefit of proving that Virginia Tech can give 757 players a chance to play at home at least once or twice during their career certainly helps in the same way that Alabama can now say that to future recruits.
In the long term, there's no doubt that Virginia Tech will have much better performances when they travel to the 757 and when they do, it'll give Virginia Tech a chance to show off their program to 757 recruits without those recruits having to cover travel expenses to see a game in Blacksburg. Now Virginia Tech may be a five-hour trip but that an save the recruits and their families the cost of multiple tanks of gas and at least a one-night stay in a hotel.
Those things matter and making it easier for recruits in one of the most important recruiting areas to see your product and increase the exposure they have is a guarantee to help.
Now some may wonder about trying to get tickets, but the thing is, Old Dominion's football program isn't going to turn down a request from a four-star recruit to visit their program for a day. ODU knows that recruit is almost certainly visiting to see their opponent but for ODU, isn't it worth it just to get a chance to host them not knowing what it could mean down the road if things change. Additionally, those four-star guys usually have fairly talented teammates that VT may not be recruiting but ODU is recruiting and hosting both the four-star recruit and his teammate you're targeting can only be beneficial for ODU.
Of course, there are still Hokie fans complaining that this series doesn't make sense but most of their complains are built on the fact that VT lost this past year to ODU with no other reasonable argument. That's it and that's not really an argument. Virginia Tech is going to play 6-7 home games per season.
A trip to ODU doesn't take away from that and an upset like this is almost certain to not happen in any other scheduled trip to the 757 and though it may mean one less game in Lane Stadium, would you rather play a Rhode Island-level FCS team at home, a game no recruit outside of a 50-mile radius is likely to visit, or go on the road and not only bring Virginia Tech football to fans used to travelling 5 hours each way for a game but also to one of the most talented regions for high school football in America.
Yeah, I'll let Hokie Nation answer that question.
Yep, that's what I thought.
The benefits of playing at Old Dominion clearly outweigh the costs especially with the recruiting benefits that a series like this provides. It's why what was (and continues to be by some) a highly-criticized series is now a trendsetter across college football with programs like Alabama, Florida, and Miami replicating this by going to Tampa to play a Group of 5 program in USF that is stronger and brings more risk of pulling an upset than playing at ODU.
Hindsight is always 20-20 and especially in this case as a risky move seven years ago to schedule games at Old Dominion has become a trendsetter across college football even if it took some time for Alabama and others to make that clear.
Now the Liberty series on the other hand, don't expect that to become some sort of college football trendsetter.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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