ODU Athletics

Get the Max With Minium: ODU's Series with Virginia Tech is the Envy of Mid-Major Football

September 16, 2018
By ODU Athletics

Frank Beamer, the legendary former Virginia Tech football coach, won’t make his way to Norfolk on Saturday for Old Dominion’s first home game against the Hokies. He sometimes travels with Tech, but decided to pass this game up.

If he changes his mind, ODU athletic director Wood Selig says he can do the opening coin clip if he’d like.

“We owe so much to Frank Beamer for his willingness to schedule us,” Selig said. “Anything he asks, we’ll do for him.”

ODU was a relative newby to college football in 2012 when school officials announced ambitious plans to join Conference USA and move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. At the time, the Monarchs were preparing to play just their fourth season.

They needed a little cred in order to begin scheduling big-time teams, and Beamer offered the Monarchs a lifeline. In late 2012, he agreed to play ODU once in Norfolk in return for two games in Blacksburg.

I was then a reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, and when I heard rumors about the scheduling move, I called Beamer.
“I’ve always said if we have an opportunity to play schools within the state, we’re going to do that,” he told me. “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.

“We should be playing them.”

It was a stunning endorsement of ODU’s move up to FBS from one of the most respected head coaches of all time, but it was only the start. A year later, Tech agreed to a four-year, home and home extension. Current Tech athletic director Whit Babcock then extended the series six more games.

ODU’s series with Virginia Tech is the envy of mid-major football. Navy plays Notre Dame every season, and East Carolina has had a long-term relationship with Virginia Tech.

But otherwise, there isn’t another mid-major school from the so-called Group of 5 conferences that has a long-time, home-and-home series with a Power 5 program that’s a national power.

Yes, ODU will be hard-pressed to defeat the Hokies, who recruit at the highest level. But don’t you think Florida Atlantic and FIU would love a similar series with Miami?

The same goes for Marshall with West Virginia, Louisiana Tech with LSU, Western Kentucky with Kentucky and Southern Miss with Ole Miss.

Beamer’s decision opened scheduling doors for ODU elsewhere in the ACC. North Carolina and N.C. State have both played at ODU, and Wake Forest and Virginia are coming in the future.

“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.”

Selig got negotiations going by calling then Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who was a stand-up guy and has regretfully since passed away. Unbeknownst to Selig, an ODU alum had been lobbying for the Monarchs before he called.

John Ballein was Tech’s associate athletic director for football operations under Beamer. In plain English, he was Beamer’s right-hand guy and most trusted confidant.

Ballein coached at Wilson and Western Branch high schools and earned a Master’s degree from ODU before he moved on to Tech.

Shortly after ODU announced its move up, Ballein mentioned to Beamer that the Hokies should consider playing the Monarchs. Beamer agreed that it was a good idea.

“That’s such a great recruiting area for us,” said Ballein, now a senior executive athletic director for Tech. “And we’ve got so many alumni there.

“We hadn’t played there in such a long time. I knew over the long haul, the program would be successful because the Tidewater area is a great football area, and that this would be a good game for our fans there.”

When Selig called Weaver, Beamer and Ballein had already spoken to him about playing ODU. And as if more was needed to seal the deal, Weaver owed Selig a huge favor.

A few years earlier, Weaver found himself in a bind when an opponent dropped the Hokies late in the scheduling process. He needed a home game, pronto.

So he called Selig, then the athletic director at Western Kentucky, who quickly agreed to bring the Hilltoppers to Blacksburg. WKU was Tech’s last scheduling option.

As they were leaving town, WKU players and coaches stopped by the memorial to the 32 students and faculty members killed in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. They laid a wreath, flowers and cards and prayed for those who died.

WKU officials didn’t alert Tech as to what they were going to do. They did it expecting nothing in return.

But word got back to Tech’s administrators about the gesture, and believe me, it was much appreciated.

An aside here: my wife’s son attended Virginia Tech at the time. I know how deeply that wound still hurts everyone connected to Tech. Ellen and I visited the memorial last year when ODU played at Tech. One of her neighbors from Chester, Va., Matthew Gwaltney, a graduate engineering student, was among those killed.

A steady stream of visitors pause at the memorial all hours of the day.

It’s not surprising that when Selig called and asked for a series, he quickly got a positive answer.

“I told Jim I didn’t think there is another series than Virginia Tech that would resonate more with our fans,” Selig said.

“It didn’t take very long for him to get back to me. The next thing you knew, we were sending contracts back and forth.”

In 2013, Selig called back, asking for an extension of the series, and this time Ballein handled negotiations.

Ballein assumed Selig was asking another 2-for-1 deal, in which ODU received a fat check for the third game of the series. Selig instead asked for a home-and-home series.

“As first I was hesitant, but then I thought about it and it made sense to me,” said Ballein.

I covered Tech football for decades at The Virginian-Pilot, through good times and bad, and the one common denominator in Blacksburg is that people there nearly always did things the right way.

That was surely the case in 2013, when Ballein sent contracts for a four-year series to Selig by Federal Express. Inside the envelope was a note and a personal check for $500 made out to the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation.

The note read in part, "I really like where you're taking the program."

Ballein wrote "ODU class of 1987" next to his signature.

Ballein was part of the travelling party when Tech last came to Foreman Field in 1986, when the Hokies took on Temple in the Oyster Bowl. Tech lost game, although Temple eventually forfeited.

I covered Tech at the time for The Virginian-Pilot, and it was pretty cool to drive 15 minutes, rather than 5 ½ hours, to a Tech home game. That team, the last coached by the late Bill Dooley, went on to defeat North Carolina State in the Peach Bowl.

Ballein will be the only member of Tech’s traveling party that comes to Norfolk this weekend who also traveled to that 1986 game.

This will be Tech’s last trip to Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium as we know it. ODU will do a $65 million renovation to the stadium once the season ends.

“I think it’s pretty cool that we’re playing one last time in the old stadium,” Ballein said. “I’ve seen a lot of games there.

“The new stadium is going to help them a lot. I’m glad we’re playing ODU. There are a lot of good people there.

“I wish them nothing but the best.”

ODU vs. Virginia Tech Series
Sept. 23, 2017, Virginia Tech 38, ODU 0, Lane Stadium, Blacksburg
Sept. 22, 2018, Virginia Tech at ODU, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Sept. 7, 2019, at ODU at Virginia Tech
Sept. 3, 2022, Virginia Tech at ODU
Sept. 2, 2023, ODU at Virginia Tech
Aug. 31, 2024, Virginia Tech at ODU
Aug. 30, 2025, ODU at Virginia Tech
Sept. 12, 2026, ODU at Virginia Tech
Sept. 11, 2027, Virginia Tech at ODU
Sept. 9, 2028, ODU at Virginia Tech
Sept. 22, 2029, Virginia Tech at ODU
Sept. 21, 2030, ODU at Virginia Tech
Sept. 6, 2031, Virginia Tech at ODU

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