Jun 17 / Rob

Needs Is Not the Right Word Here

Wants and needs. They’re different things. Of course that doesn’t stop people from using “needs” to describe things that are nothing more than wants. We want football season to arrive, we don’t literally need it to. So we stumbled upon this throwaway list of 10 best nonconference games in FCS pushed out for no other reason than to create “content” in the offseason, said “JMU needs to improve its nonconference scheduling,” it hit a nerve. Well, that might be overstating it. It really did nothing more than give us an opportunity to respond and thus create some throwaway offseason content of our own.

First of all, the mere fact that JMU’s game against Chattanooga is considered by the author to be one of the top 10 nonconference games, kind of damages the entire argument that the schedule must improve. But that’s not really what got to me. It’s the “needs” thing. Football fans might want to see JMU play more good nonconference games. But it’s a stretch to say the Dukes need to.

JMU wants to win championships. To do that, JMU needs to make the playoffs. And they certainly want to earn a seed, but technically they don’t need one. So the powers that be build a schedule that best gives them a chance to make the playoffs, and the hopefully earn a seed, and prepare the Dukes for the type of competition they’ll face in the postseason. Given how competitive the CAA is most years, teams don’t have a big margin for error in conference play. Any team that heads into conference play with 2 or 3 nonconference losses, will have a tough road to a bid. And because the CAA is one of the top FCS leagues, with multiple playoff teams most years, conference play usually gets teams ready for December football. Which leads many teams to conclude that it’s smart to schedule a few easy tune-ups.

JMU is one of those schools. Most years, you can count on two things when you go to Bridgeforth in September. One, it will be hot, and two, you’re gonna see JMU light up the scoreboard. JMU usually plays a “stretch” road game against an FBS school, and then schedules teams from surrounding FCS conferences. And those teams can rarely keep up. It’s not as exciting as seeing an FCS power team come to town, and it’s clearly a risk averse approach, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

But it works. JMU has made the playoffs the past 5 seasons. They won the title for the 2016 season and made it all the way back to the championship the following year. Last year, the Dukes crashed out in the second round, but if anyone can connect the disaster that was that game to the nonconference schedule, they’re seeing things we’re not. The Dukes are a perennial playoff team and always in the mix for the CAA title. The scheduling philosophy is working. It’s not hurting the Dukes and doesn’t “need” to change.

Now given all that, we agree that as fans, it would be very fun to have more 2008 JMU vs. App State type match-ups. But that’s a want, not a need. And those aren’t easy to pull off. Coaches and ADs all say they’ll take on any team, anywhere. Top teams are not lining up to come play in Bridgeforth. And JMU doesn’t need strength of schedule building nonconference games, so there’s no pressure to take tough roadies. We’ve all heard the rumors about NDSU wanting to put together a game against JMU…in the Fargodome. Jeff Bourne was right to turn that down. Home and home or hang up the phone.

We get it. The multiple early season games against teams with no chance are not exciting. It would be fun to have some more competitive games. But the goal is to get to the playoffs and make a run. Yeah, picking the “needs” word to death is a bit pedantic, but it’s true. JMU doesn’t need to change a thing with its scheduling. We want the Dukes to make it back to the playoffs. And they need to play better then they did last year, once they get there.

2 Comments

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  1. Mike in Columbus / Jun 18 2019

    I would agree that JMU does not need to scedule better n-c opponents but watching home games against St. Francis every other year is not very entertaining and that match up is not one that makes me want to travel to see it. They could still schedule games where they would be favored and that would be more attractive to watch. I would think there would be plenty of teams from the Southern Conference or OVC that would be willing to come to Bridgeforth and those teams would probably carry more geographic familiarity that what they currently schedule.

  2. Rob / Jun 19 2019

    Yeah, I agree. I was just quibbling with the word “need.” Personally, I think JMU could still stick with its general philosophy of scheduling an FBS game and then some winnable FCS games, by focusing on SoCon or Patriot League opponents. Generally speaking, those schools are in the same regions as many students and alums, have greater name recognition than the St. Francis type schools, and would be more competitive.

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