Norfolk State perpetual underdogs
Both schools got their start as local arms of more established colleges. Old Dominion began as a part of William & Mary College in 1930. Norfolk State began as the local branch of Virginia State University later in the decade.
Both eventually grew into their own schools, and by the late 1960s, both programs had established themselves as basketball schools. Both played fast-paced, exciting basketball — ODU in the Mason-Dixon Conference, Norfolk State in the CIAA. Their first meeting came in Dec. 1965 when the two schools meet at the Amphibious Force Invitational Tournament. ODU won that matchup 86-82.
Four years later they met for the second time, once again in a tournament. ODU and Norfolk State College met in a consolation game in the NCAA College Division (now Division II) Tournament. NSC got the win 113-112 win over its neighbors.
Sandi Brandon was a freshman at Norfolk State at the time. She went to the game and went on to earn degrees from both universities. Now Dr. Sandi Hutchinson, she has a unique perspective on the rivalry. The life-long Hampton Roads resident says she has affinity for both schools, she admits the perception of NSU hasn’t been favorable.
“As an HBCU, I’ve never appreciated—kind of— the way Norfolk State was always looked at as the underdog,” Dr. Hutchinson told us. “I’m a member of the athletic foundation there and so I’m a big supporter of Norfolk State and HBCUs.”
ODU went Division I in the late 1970s, while NSU hung around in Division II for another 20 years. There is a huge disparity in terms of endowments and facilities, which Dr. Hutchinson acknowledged. But what NSU lacks in resources, it makes up for in excellence, she said.
“They do have a lot more, they have larger facilities. But I want to say when it comes to Norfolk State education that I’ve received, in taking classes at both, one was no less than the other. I would stack every professor at Norfolk State pound-for-pound, round-for-round at any I had at ODU. And the same with athletics.”
Dr. Hutchinson says there are many people in the area who don’t feel that the programs are on the same level, despite sharing Division I status.
“There are some people who feel in the community ‘we don’t think that the two schools should be playing because they’re not equal athletically,” she said. “They’re both Divisions I teams. They’re both Division I coaches.”
In addition to being a pastor, the former Virginia Squires cheerleader is an avid sports fan. She said she’s watched both teams, and thinks that the game may be won on the boards.
“We remember what Norfolk State did when they had Kyle O’Quinn playing against Missouri. We remember Alabama…so when people say that Old Dominion is just not in their league…You look at the players for both teams, you look at what both bring to the table, and you look at both coaches. I’m going to tell you— never count Jones out. And I’m talking Robert Jones.”
Old Dominion next on NSU’s list
Old Dominion leads the all-time series 13-6, which includes the last two meetings. One of those took place at ODU, while the other took place at the Scope, a neutral site that also hosts the MEAC Basketball Tournaments.
NSU will travel to ODU in 2022-23. But ODU’s Jeff Jones doesn’t sound interested in making NSU to a full-fledged rival.
“In terms of any long-term signal or anything like that, people shouldn’t read into it any more than it is. It’s a good two-game series, and we know that it’ll be a difficult game at Norfolk State this year.”
All signs point to it being a tough game. NSU has already knocked off James Madison and Radford. Beating both those schools is a feather in the cap for NSU. Rival Hampton is set to come to Echols next week. That win is always a sweet one.
But if NSU can come up with its first win against ODU since 1999 on Wednesday night, it might want to be prepared for the 2022-2023 game to be the last time it plays its reluctant rival.