MTSU’s eventual move to Conference USA membership will align two old friends against each other once again.
For years, the long friendship between MTSU athletics director Chris Massaro and then-Western Kentucky athletics director Wood Selig was widely acknowledged as an ongoing friendly feud between two highly-competitive leaders. While often seen sitting together when their teams played, they pulled so hard against the other that it was often met with a disarming smile balanced against nervous energy.
When one lost to the other, smiles were abundant for the victor, and food didn’t taste the same for the vanquished. But it fed the palate as one of many components that refueled a rivalry that had dated back for decades.
For Massaro and Selig, their competitiveness is what got them to where they are today. But it goes back to 1984 between the two, when they first met and roomed together while graduate students in the famed sports administration post-graduate degree program at Ohio University.
After graduation, they went their separate ways, but their college bond remained. Families grew as friends, and by the time Massaro and Selig were coupled together as ADs at MTSU and WKU, respectively, they had become two of the leading voices in Sun Belt Conference affairs.
But in early 2010 after 11 years as AD at WKU, Selig was named to a similar position at Old Dominion University in his hometown of Norfolk, Va. Since then, he has led ODU from Division I-AA (FCS) football into the highest level of Division I-A (FBS) starting in 2013. In as much, his efforts placed Old Dominion ahead of the curve, as evidenced by when it was announced earlier this year the school would become a member of Conference USA.
Ironically, the choice of ODU was widely reported at the time to come just ahead of MTSU, which had like ODU actively courted C-USA membership. Adding more irony to the equation, MTSU announced this past week that it was departing the Sun Belt for Conference USA either next school year or one the one after that and become an immediate rival with Old Dominion.
“Even furthering the irony, we are going to be in the same (Conference USA) division,” Massaro said.
Massaro admitted that his friendship with Selig and the two schools competing once again against each other in the same conference was exciting. But he also knows that it has its advantages, too.
“Hopefully, it will create some natural rivalries between the schools,” Massaro said of the local knowledge concerning him and Selig. “To have one of your very best friends in the same league and have that person as a confidant, we share the same issues and challenges.”
Massaro did acknowledge there was some conversation with Selig when both schools were making their pitches to become Conference-USA members. But there was more – not in a gloating way, mind you – aftter ODU was picked over MTSU for league membership earlier this year.
“There was a little bit,” Massaro said of the early conversation between the two before ODU was accepted. “And there was some afterward, too, because they were a little bit of a surprise.”
Granted, there is much more maneuvering still to come when it all finally shakes out with conference realignment around the country. But as it stands now, MTSU and ODU are new members of Conference USA and eager to make their marks.
And when teams from the schools get together on the gridiron or court or field in their new league play soon, it is expected that Massaro and Selig will be keeping their own personal score of MTSU vs. ODU.
Greg Pogue, former executive sports editor at The DNJ, is host of the morning sports talk show on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. E-mail him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.