Sep 21 / Todd

AD says JMU to 1A in 18-24 months “very likely”

The Story

Pigs may fly after all.  After years of responding to questions about the possibility of JMU moving up to the FBS (1A) level in football with responses like “not under the current administration” and “over my dead body,” Athletic Director Jeff Bourne told the Daily News Record yesterday that “I think it is very likely this could happen.  I think you could see movement in the next 18-24 months.”

Talk about news to wake up to!  And here I was all set to write a Field Hockey post thanks to a new interview with Coach Lucas.

We’d seriously love to link  you to the original story, but in case you didn’t know, the DNR is a subscription service so it probably wouldn’t help all that much for most of us.  That said, here’s the rest of the important bits with much love to DNR for asking the questions in light of the enormous shakeup going on throughout college footbal.

Bourne said, without prompting, that he could see JMU becoming a charter member of a conference comprised of upper-level I-AA schools and lower-level I-A schools – schools such as Appalachian State, Delaware, Marshall, Ohio University and Old Dominion.
While that would mean the end of meaningful rivalries with the Richmonds and William & Marys – programs likely to remain in what is now Division I-AA — it would put Madison in a conference of completely like-minded universities, meaning all would be committed to football as well as basketball.
Bourne also believes it would be cozy enough geographically to be cost effective.
“If you’re going to start a league, ideally, from scratch, you’d want to have one where your travel costs are reasonable and the institutions are similar,” he said.
Asked if a new I-A league might fit under the CAA umbrella, Bourne said, “I guess it’s always possible.” But he quickly added it’s not likely because he would prefer everybody in a I-A conference also play football. The Colonial includes basketball-only programs, such as George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth.

To JMU’s tremendous credit, Bourn mentioned precisely this scenario back in 2008 when discussing the expansion of Bridgeforth Stadium.  Whether or not the stadium, and this potential move, turn out to be a good idea financially and ideaologically, remains to be seen, but you can’t say JMU didn’t plan for this or is just being reactionary to as the effects trickle down from the mega-conference/BCS cartel.

Our Take

As some of you may know who have been reading a while, Rob and I have diverged slightly on the idea of moving up.  I’ve always been gung-ho about it, at times naively, while Rob has frequently touted the great things about FCS (namely winning consistently and playing for a championship) and been more cautious about the pitfalls of such a move.


Did you really think we built this for CCSU?

But all Dukes fans are smartest enough to see two things that make this move both inevitable and sound.  First, the landscape of college football is set to change in a major way, and second, the stadium speaks for itself.  In other words, JMU has clearly been positioning themselves as a “football school” to the tune of 68 million dollars for the new Bridgeforth Stadium we all love so much.  This, or something like this, is going to happen and honestly, the news was less shocking than the WVU @ FedEx Field morning.

Yes, I can already hear the cries from some parts base that playing second-tier FBS football is less exciting and more expensive than FCS, epecially when the four or five super-conferences work even harder to keep the BCS for themselves, and freeze out everyone else.  That’s missing the point.  Am I looking forward to JMU playing in a money-losing bowl in Shreveport against Central Northwest Arkansas A&T?  No, I’m not.  But I’m a JMU psycho and I’m not sure I would, or could, throw everything aside for trip to Frisco, Texas to play in front of a half-full stadium for a 1-AA Championship either.  There are already three tiers (BCS, non BCS D-1, and FCS) and this is about moving up from Tier 3 to Tier 2.  It’s about joining with like-minded and similarly-sized schools that take football seriously in a conference that makes geographic sense for all sports where some of the most powerful political voices don’t make financial decisions without considering football (VCU, GMU).  And lastly, it’s about positioning.  In the same way JMU was ahead of the game by building Bridgeforth out to be ready for this college football shakeup, it would be nice to think this will put them in better position ten years from now when the current BCS deal runs its course and the next earthquake hits college football.

We’re going to be covering this ad nauseum for the foreseeable future from about a zillion angles (effect on search for a new JMU president, the approximately 50 additional scholarships required including the possibility of a new women’s sport for Title IX compliance, future rivals, etc.).  But I think it’s safe to say we’re strongly optimistic about the future and JMU’s place in it.

Now let’s all try and remember we’ve got a top-ten showdown at William & Mary this Saturday night with wide tv coverage!


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  1. LD / Sep 21 2011

    I like 1-AA. Playoffs are great, games are fun, ticket prices are resonable. I guess 1-A cash would be nice but in a non BCS conference doesn’t really do much for me. To be honest the playoff is what gets me excited for the season and with that taken away I just don’t see the point.

  2. Todd / Sep 21 2011

    LD, that’s a good statement of the most concerning issue, but I think we’re all missing the point that 1-AA in it’s current configuration is a dinosaur headed for extinction. It’s already unsustainable for schools without sufficient enrollment/alumni bases and levels of interest at the 60+ scholarship plus money-losing playoffs as evidenced by schools like RhodeI taking a step back to the NEC and Hofstra and Northeastern abandoning altogether. There’s basically about 25 schools with JMU type interest in 1-AA and they’re not going to be able to keep the other 75% of FCS schools on board at current levels to even make it tenable. Basically the third tier is collectively preparing to take a step backwards toward D2 and if you’re in that group of 25 schools like JMU you have to decide if that’s alright with you. If not, gotta go.

  3. Todd / Sep 21 2011

    Guess it will also be hard for those JMU alums who will actually have to choose between the Dukes and their “beloved” Hoos or Hokies. I mean, we wouldn’t want to create any fan tension here haha.

  4. Coach Priz / Sep 21 2011

    I hate to mention this but I think the administration may have made a mistake throwing money at the football program (and asking the state of Virginia for money). While D-1 would be fun it is unlikely we will make an impact in terms of dollars (i.e. bowl games vs. playoffs) in the foreseeable future. It may be the case that moving to D-1 alone would increase the # of applications and hence raise the level of the student but I am skeptical of that as well.

    My point is that with the changing landscape of college football, JMU may get run over by having to move to D-1 where we are likely to lose money on football in the near term. JMU might have been better off waiting on the new stadium until we knew that we would get the FCS playoff and championship games and had some kind of reinsurance that FCS would be alive for the next 10 years.

  5. KingCranium / Sep 21 2011

    I hadn’t read the whole article until today, and I immediately noticed there are some big conditional sentences in Bourne’s remarks. First, he says that the 16-team super-conferences must form. After the Pac-12 decided not to expand and TX and OK decided to meet to keep the Big 12 together, it looks like that won’t happen, at least for a while.

    Second, he talks about JMU being a charter member of a geographically sensible conference. The NCAA still has the rule that you must have a conference invite to move up, right? So JMU can’t move up and help charter a conference. JMU could accept a bid from another conference, move up and then switch, but then you’re playing for a few years in the MAC or CUSA.

  6. Rob / Sep 22 2011

    Todd is right that I’ve always been more skeptical about any potential move to FBS. I am cautiously optimistic based on Bourne’s quotes though. My worry has always been that JMU would jump to a bad conference w/o any other teams that fans’ care about or consider rivals. I like the idea of moving up with some similar programs that JMU is already associated with. Maybe that is all that this is about, just finding a way to stay connected to like minded programs.

    When you think about it the same thing that is happening at the FBS level with a clear set of “tier 1” programs (BCS conferences, superconferences, etc) is close to happening at the FCS level. JMU, Delaware, ODU, etc are funding football at levels that many schools just can’t keep up with. Looking at it like that, makes this sort of move logical. Maybe it really isn’t about moving up to join the big time programs, but more about carving out a niche to continue playing with similar programs. Whether that is at the FCS level or FBS level doesn’t really matter as much. JMU is still not going to be “tier 1” after this move. There is no reason to think that such a move won’t eventually position them for another jump to the top tier though. Think about VA Tech. If not for Virginia government intervention, the Hokies would have been left out of the ACC and facing the very real potential of having the Big East collapsing around them right now. JMU needs to keep moving forward to position itself for the next conference shake-ups.

  7. Matt / Sep 22 2011

    The more I mull this whole thing over, the less I think it will work – at least not well. FCS may cease to exist in the near future, which will force our hands to some extent. If it does, then we have to land somewhere, and it would have to be in FBS.

    One of the main reasons I hear supporting a move to FBS is the opportunity to attract other FBS teams outside of our moribund rumored “geographically sensible” conference. What FBS program is going to come to play an OOC game in a 25K seat stadium? There’s not enough money in a game like that for an FBS program to do it. The opportunity costs of not playing that OOC at home (against a patsy) are too great for any name program to ignore.

    I don’t know – I used to be all gung ho about a move to FBS, but the more I hear the details, the less exciting it sounds. Our rumored conference would be a big step backwards in most sports other than football too.

    Now, if we could somehow wiggle our way into the newly-diluted Big East, I’d do it tomorrow.

  8. Steve / Sep 23 2011

    I have many concerns. I love the excitement of the play-offs and being a national contender. That said, if 1-AA is fading away, we may not have a choice. But there are non-fb aspects to this. For example, the creation of a new conference. Just as the CAA is becoming a multi-bid conf, we’re going to leave and join with Delaware, App St, Marshall? We’d be lucky to get ONE bid. The CAA is well regarded in many non-revenue sports, too, with multiple bids. We’d lose all of that. Also, the move to 85 grants means we’d have to add at least one more women’s sport and preclude us from bringing back another men’s sport. I was hopeful that JMU might be able to bring back at least one men’s sport before too long to give us some balance.

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