Mar 26 / Todd

Hallelujah, JMU no longer just Monitoring the Situation!

This afternoon, JMU Sports released the following:

Statement from President Alger and Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne on GMU Departure

JMU President Jonathan Alger and Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne comment on the departure of George Mason University to the Atlantic 10 Conference beginning July 1, 2013

In speaking for the institution and many of our fans, we are extremely disappointed in this decision, as GMU, a founding member of the CAA, represents the key characteristics by which we judge our own conference affiliation.

This news comes at a time when instability and movement within conference membership continues across the country. The immediate strategy by the conference involves the CAA continuing to look at potential new members, a process that began earlier this year with the addition of the College of Charleston.

From our internal athletics perspective, we are actively engaged in a strategic planning process as a component of the University’s Madison Future Commission. In pursuing this plan, we are working with Carr Sports Consulting to assist us in establishing a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses all of our programs and long-term actions. While this process is set to conclude this summer, our planning is fluid and will help position and prepare us for important long-term decisions that are in the best interest of our student-athletes, coaches and the institution.

We look forward to working with our many constituents, both on campus, and around the country, in developing and sharing a strategic plan which positions our institution for long-term success.

Jonathan Alger                                                        Jeff Bourne
President                                                                Director of Athletics

What it Means – Objectively

There are many angles from which to view this statement but here is what we know for sure with our emphasis added in parens:

1) JMU is no longer in lockstep with the CAA on decisions about the future. (Great news)

2) The Administration has issued a very public statement acknowledging the utter distress in which the CAA finds itself.  (This may be the best news of all as this is the most important thing we’ve been asking of regardless of the final decision)

3) At no point were the words “monitoring the situation” or “committed to the CAA” used.  (Thanks be to all that is holy!)

4) The message was signed by President Jon Alger and AD Jeff Bourne.  It was NOT signed by VP-Finance Charlie King.  (no explanation needed and Alger deserves huge credit for getting involved when needed)

What it Means – Subjectively (our take)

It’s entirely possible that today’s statement is the most important piece of information regarding JMU Athletics to be made in many years and possibly for many more.

Let’s start by addressing the contingent of JMU fans, many of our generation or older, who have been supporters of staying in the CAA and/or FCS.  The CAA is DEAD.  Not just down, not just going through tough times.  DEAD.  Seriously, don’t ask about the potential for adding new members and reviving the league.  What do you want out of your conference?  UR, VCU, ODU, and GMU are all gone.  Painfully, they’ll all be enjoying a renewed enthusiasm for their rivalries in the A10, a basketball-centric, non-football conference.  Their is no one left, and all the Woffords and Elons and Libertys of the world only drag the league further away from a collection of “peer institutions” many of you supported sticking by.  And it’s not just about the CAA, especially when it comes to FCS football.  App St. and Georgia Southern, two other FCS powers, are expected to announce tomorrow that they are moving up and joining the Sun Belt Conference.  As we’ve been screaming into the ether for awhile now, as the BCS superconferences expand and the mid-major FBS conferences do in turn, the obvious endgame is that this second tier, even if it’s technically 1-A or FBS, is becoming the former 1-AA again and the dregs that remain in what is currently FCS are rapidly sliding back to D2 status.  It doesn’t matter what the names are, that’s what is happening.  The bottom line remains that all conferences that have some members who play, and thus vote and take into account financially, some sports (football), that other members do not play, are doomed to failure.  This is true from the highest level of college sports in the Big East, to 1-AA mid-majors like the CAA, right on down to NAIA Division 2 conferences in the Pacific Northwest.  We’ve been beating this drum for two years now and all the half-assed members like College of Charleston or Albany aren’t going to change that.  This isn’t about FBS or FCS football.  Rob and I can get on board with options that contain both, but it is about not continuing with a sinking ship and at least choosing your own path.

Ok now, on with reading between the lines of today’s message.  First, it seems to imply JMU is open to the possibility of leaving before the study was originally due for completion this summer if the choice is forced or the right opportunity presents itself.

Second, Carr Sports Consulting has done numerous studies of this nature for other universities and seems to have a relationship with many of the conferences JMU might or might not have the opportunity to join.  This could mean it’s been hired by JMU as more a de facto search firm or matchmaker.  But it could also be that JMU’s admin, who has, until now, been fairly consistent in their love of FCS football, simply wanted a little CYA to fall back on when the FBS-or-bust lunatics go crazy.  In either case, and Rob may be more qualified than I am to answer this, it seems safe to assume JMU hired the consultants to provide cover and support for a particular decision, not to await the results and then do exactly what a 3rd party says to do.  This may be getting a bit far afield with the speculation, but it also seems safe to assume that three of the stickier constituencies with which JMU’s admin will have to deal with are 1) non-revenue sports and their backers, 2) faculty, and 3) ye olde Virginny legislature.  In all three cases, being able to fall back on a 3rd party study provides cover if what needs to be done involves elements that are distasteful or downright unseemly to one or more of those factions.

On that note, while it pains us to say (especially given our support for Field Hockey in particular), non-revenue sports simply do not have a place at the decision-making table at this time.  Those sports belong wherever football and basketball enable them to go.  Most if not all of the options outlined below will likely involve a step backwards in terms of national relevance and level of competition for at least some of those sports, but again, the CAA is dead.  In any case involving a move up to FBS football, JMU will likely have to add another women’s sport or remove another men’s sport in order to comply with Title IX.  These decisions will be unpopular, painful, and necessary.  (See how that report provides cover)

Potential Outcomes

Rob and I have no inside information and are certainly not experts.  We know nothing of tea leaves.  We just spend as much time discussing, researching, and stressing over college sports JMU’s level as anyone and we try to keep an open, rational mind about these things.  With the exception of our top choice, the following are not in any order of what we most want or most think is realistic, they are simply conceivable outcomes discussed in turn.

MAC in all sports, hopefully with Delaware – We have both reached the conclusion that this is the best option and we would fully embrace the #MACtion!  Yes, JMU would be expanding the geographic footprint of the MAC, but it would still have a footprint, not a giant, hemorrhagic,  elephant-paw print that most of the other options in massively reshaped conferences are developing.  The MAC has a long history of stability and currently has only one single-sport member in UMass.  Most of the schools are public and similarly sized to JMU.  Many of them are located in Harrisonburg-type markets where we would not be constantly condescended to at every tv-rights negotiation, bowl alignment meeting, or decisions on where to hold conference tourneys.

 

A10 all sports but football, football elsewhere (likely FCS CAA) – Seems unlikely as the A10 is market-hunting and has VA locked down now with UR, VCU, and GMU (plus GW).  Davidson (Charlotte for the clueless), Northeastern (Boston) both seem more likely for markets and they don’t have the risk of wanting to leave for football.  Whether or not JMU would want to leave for greener football pastures, Bridgeforth has to scare the shit out of hoops-centric conferences that have been burned before.

Sun Belt Full Membership – Again seems less likely now that the SBC has added four today.  We don’t love it geographically (and neither does an admin that accurately notes JMU’s student-profile is from Harrisonburg north) and we really don’t like it academically.

Sun Belt Football Only – Not completely crazy if you really want to hang in the CAA or the A10 opportunity presents itself, but still not ideal.

CUSA – Like the A10, they’ve been market-hunting and seem less than stable, but JMU would likely have support from ODU and would definitely have some regional rivalries (ODU, Charlotte, etc.).  But it seems like a collection of schools hoping in vain it’s just a stepping-stone, not a committed group of like-minded institutions, and for this reason we’d give the edge to the MAC.

New Big East/America 12 – Whatever it’s name, this is the closest thing to a big conference that seems remotely possible.  But it’s still highly unlikely if schools like Cincy or UConn have anything to say about it as they wouldn’t want to add another perceived lightweight from FCS.  Although we’d support this no questions asked, it does have the same instability mentioned in the CUSA section.

Other – Staying in the CAA or merging it with the SoCon remains is always an unpalatable option.  W&M may decide to downgear on athletics and push for  the academic stronghold of the Patriot League, but that seems unlikely for the Dukes.  We used to think the possibility of a new East Coast Conference existed, but the ship has just sailed too quickly without movement for this to be realistic at this point.

In any case, today’s communication was a welcome breath of fresh air and a sign that JMU’s decision-makers are engaging and hopefully getting ready to lead a positive transition to the next phase of intercollegiate athletics at what we all believe is a sleeping giant!

 

 

 

 


38 Comments

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  1. maddukes98 / Mar 27 2013

    Agreed – MAC is really the best option at this point without any other information or without any other “developments” involving the other major conferences. JMU is just in a really tough position with having a FCS football team with all other D-1 sports. It would be great if the A-10 had football, because I think the schools are better academically and more like-minded, and of course closer geographically, but the MAC makes the most overall sense right now.

  2. White Hall / Mar 27 2013

    I just hope this is not a case of too little too late. There are not a lot of open slots left for JMU to jump to. The admin. needs to make the jump to the MAC now.

  3. Duke of Philly / Mar 27 2013

    Best blog post yet. Very well done.

    I especially appreciate your insightful comment about Charlie King. He has had far too much say in decisions made. His role should be to count beans and make suggestions – not to tell Jeff Bourne and President Alger what to do. Sources tell me he has been the biggest Matt Brady detratctor, and probably the reason a contract is not in place to ensure Brady’s future.

  4. Bhagavan / Mar 27 2013

    Great post guys.
    The situation with Brady isn’t looking good. If the school lets a coach walk that took a team to the Big Dance for the first time in 20 years, what other coach would want to walk into this situation/expectations?

  5. FormerDukeBlocker / Mar 27 2013

    Well written post. I agree with all points made. Bottom line , it is not fair to our student athletes, our fans, or any other JMU constituencies to compete in a conference against teams that do not share similar commitments to all of the sports that we play. The MAC is probably the best option and a scenario where we go as a package with Delaware and Towson would be ideal. That way the CAA can continue on as a basketball only conference (which would be in their best interest) we would not abandon longtime partners who share similar commitments, and we would join a league that seems to have the same degree of respect for our values (Loyalty, Stability). From a recruiting perspective this would open Pittsburgh and Ohio as viable options which are rich in football talent (and apparently basketball too) We can play ODU in a non-conferece series as an equal and get more money in our games against ACC schools. It is win for our school on all counts.

  6. Joe Tom / Mar 27 2013

    I’d say Brady already has opened up Ohio in terms of basketball recruiting it seems like a good chunk of our players have come from Ohio. I was thinking the same thing yesterday about the MAC. It’s really one of the only non-BCS conferences to not have any teams picked off to bigger conferences which speaks volumes about the stability. If the MAC is open to adding JMU it’s time to go. If it’s able to happen this year’s game against Akron could be a preview on how well JMU could compete in football.

  7. Joe Tom / Mar 27 2013

    with the exception of Temple in football leaving, I forgot that they played football in the MAC for a few years

  8. Luke / Mar 27 2013

    As a Duke from Buffalo, it would be sweet to watch JMU play at UB or see UB play at JMU. I would’ve been happier to have the CAA stick together and try to grow as a group, because I think going to Sun Belt or MAC or CUSA is just another form of second class football, but without playoffs and our rivalry history. But there’s no denying that the CAA’s gone. With so many schools moved up, JMU’s program will suffer if it doesn’t do the same. So sure, make a hard push for the MAC. Best of a ‘meh’ situation.

  9. SunChase / Mar 27 2013

    The MAC angle is intriguing, and I’ve thought about it before, but Title IX will gut us. I was actually just talking to a JMU athletics person about this last night– joining the MAC on the FBS level means adding 22 scholarships in football alone, which means adding over 50 scholarships total when it’s all done. Even coming off a momentum-building event like the first NCAA bid in 19 years, that kind of money isn’t that realistic.

    I’ve had my suspicions for a couple years now that the reason JMU was so gung-ho about playing small ball with all the other preschoolers on the block was for the benefit of all the programs that aren’t named football or men’s basketball. Since we cut programs to get in accordance with title ix back like 7 or 8 years ago, the winning percentage of every program- even mbb- has gone up. Some of this I already knew, like how dominant WBB and Lax have become. But across the board, every one, I didn’t know until recently. JMU has been committed to that overall depth the athletic program has, and my theory is while moving for the sake of football (and perhaps basketball) would please most alumni and the general public, it would probably set non-rev sports back a decade or more, and that’s what they want to protect.

  10. Todd / Mar 27 2013

    Thanks everyone for the positive feedback! (Sorry for the typos and missed words in a few spots) Lots of Sun Belt rumors popping up out there today, so just wanted to say that while we’ll be less than thrilled, the possibility of a true rivalry with (Cr)App. St. is awesome. Also, just as with all of the alternatives mentioned above, at this point it does appear preferable to doing nothing and watching the CAA cave in on us. In other words, we’ll support any decision that is not the status quo.

  11. JMU Girl / Mar 27 2013

    Definitely agree that the CAA is dead. It is time to look for a home.

    I think the MAC or nBE is the best place for us.
    Any mention of JMU and A10 is delusional. One season in 20years does not make us a basketball school ;) which the A10 essentially is a collection of–

    I keep seeing this everywhere…where UR is added to a list of those that left the CAA. UM, UR has been A-10 since 2001….and CAA for football only.

  12. LD / Mar 27 2013

    Sweet can’t wait for that first home game against North Texas or Toledo. I am sure we are going to fill up the stadium any given Saturday.

    If this was the plan when they built the new stadium I would like my donation back.

  13. Shady_P / Mar 27 2013

    Not sure what you expected for your donation, but you don’t expand a FCS stadium like that with the intention of staying FCS.

    Anywhere but the CAA is a HUGE POSITIVE.

  14. Joe Tom / Mar 27 2013

    Well LD, I guess my only question is what do you want JMU to do? Also, the stadium isn’t exactly full for St. Francis or Alcorn St. so I fail to see your point. In fact, attendance is pretty disappointing outside of homecoming or parent’s weekend

  15. Joe Tom / Mar 27 2013

    Todd, I heard today that the Sunbelt has all but made it official that they’re adding New Mexico St. and Idaho bringing them to 12. I mean I guess the Sunbelt could go over 12 if they wanted to, but don’t you think them reaching 12 with the addition of the former WAC schools kind of puts the Sunbelt out of reach for JMU? Leaving us with the MAC, Conference USA, and the conference formerly known as the Big East?

  16. FormerDukeBlocker / Mar 27 2013

    The last thing we can afford to do is allow our non-revenue sports to dictate what we do. If that is our thinking we might as well go to Division III. I am not trying to be overly dramatic, but Division I athletics is driven by Football and Men’s basketball. One may not agree with that as a principle, but it cannot be denied as a fact. If this move means that we cut more men’s non-revenue sports then that is the way it has to be. I hate it for the athletes and coaches but that is the reality of Division I athletics as dictated by Title IX. Let’s not forget that a MAC school (Northern Illinois) played in this years Orange Bowl. I am not saying that we are BCS bound anytime soon, but I would think that our fan base would appreciate playing teams from a conference that has garnered that level of exposure that recently. They also will have a number of players drafted this year and one of their offensive tackles will go in the first round. This is a good competitive conference that is geographically desirable and stable with schools that are similar to us in size, culture, and aspirations. Let’s not over -think this, JMU nation should vocally support this move.

  17. Steve White / Mar 27 2013

    Does anyone have any news to whether we still have a men’s basketball coach?

  18. Shady_P / Mar 28 2013

    FormerDukeBlocker hit the nail on the head – Football and Men’s Basketball drive this ship and football especially fund all the other non-revenue sports. If the move works for Football and Men’s Basketball that is all that really matters; everything else will work itself out. If JMU wants to be big time, it is about time the administration acts like it and gives it more than lip service.

    And yeah what is the deal with a new deal for Matt Brady, not really sure what the holdup is since they are going to let the contract expire do they need to post the job for a month and let the posting close. I am just joking there, that was a BS answer when hiring an OC…..no other state school in VA does business like that when hiring coaches.

  19. Deacon Danny / Mar 28 2013

    So much for JMU controling their own destiny as far as conference moves. I think it is safe to say that ship has sailed so at this point JMU just needs to be on the next row boat out of the CAA. And as far as where JMU goes, my preference, would be to a conference where they can take all of their sports (i.e. SunBelt, MAC, CUSA) and not a scenario where football plays in one conference and all other sports play in another (i.e. CAA/A10).

    And I like the fact that Alger signed his name on the statement released by JMU the other day. I guess someone in addition to Jeff Bourne had to sign it in order to give it any sort of credibility at this point.

  20. Put Up Yer Dukes / Mar 28 2013

    Shady,
    Agree on football and men’s basketball driving the ship, but are you implying the football program is actually profitable and able to fund the non-revenue sports?

  21. Shady_P / Mar 28 2013

    Football and Basketball at least attempt to offset costs, with ticket sales/season tickets/sponsors…..the last time I checked with the non-revenue sports they are a straight up drain on the athletic budget and put little if anything back. But not looking to get in a pissing match over it. The fact of the matter folks care very little about the other sports. Football and Basketball should be concern 1A and 1B for any move and everything else will have to deal with it.

  22. Put Up Yer Dukes / Mar 28 2013

    Yes, but football and basketball will never be profitable, even if we go FBS. That is clear. I’m not taking any sides, just pointing out the reality of the money side of things. Football is A LOT bigger drain on the athletic dept. budget than the non-revenue sports. I don’t want to start a debate about the benefits the school receives from football and basketball, though. They are obviously and understandably HUGE, and as a fan, I’d love for a big move to happen. However, the administration can’t just make decisions from the heart because we want to play with the big boys when the reality is we have to be able to afford it and it needs to make sense for the entire athletic department. Clearly there is no perfect conference for us now (maybe a new Big East or East Coast Conference), including the CAA.

  23. Shady_P / Mar 28 2013

    But the exposure/ student interest (current and prospective) / donations to the university / etc… are directly impacted by Football and Basketball. Football and Basketball are two of the BEST marketing opportunities for JMU. Not trying to dis-respect the other sports or there athletes but does anyone really care how successful any university is in Tennis/Golf/Softball/Swimming/LAX/Soccer/Baseball/Volleyball/Field Hockey/Track. I respect those athletes and what they can do BUT outside of already die-hard JMU alumni and the athletes nobody cares.

    Heck UVA has a ton of LAX and Soccer titles and I bet they would trade them all in for a BCS football game or a Final Four trip.

  24. Joe Tom / Mar 28 2013

    FBS bowls have huge pay outs….even the worst bowl in existence would make JMU more money than they make in a season now

  25. Joe Tom / Mar 28 2013

    not counting the huge payouts we get from playing current FBS teams

  26. Deta / Mar 28 2013

    Joe Tom, I hope your last post was a joke because the only teams that make money in the bowl world are the BCS games. Bowl games are for suckers. Payouts don’t cover travel cost, and manditory tickets each team must purchase.

    Look at the Hokies loses in recent years.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/story/2011-09-28/bcs-bowl-games-cost-some-schools/50582512/1

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/business/article.aspx?subjectid=51&articleid=20121216_49_E1_CUTLIN241629

    “Who loses?

    When it comes to losing money in BCS games, Virginia Tech is at the top of the heap.

    The Hokies, as ACC champions, played in the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Orange Bowls. Virginia Tech lost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year it traveled from Blacksburg, Va., to Miami to play. The loss would have been greater had the ACC not absorbed some of the cost of 22,700 tickets the school was required to buy for those games but was unable to resell, university records obtained by The Republic show.

    Virginia Tech would have lost $1.3 million in 2008, $2.2 million in 2009 and $1.6 million in 2011 had the ACC not stepped in and subsidized a portion of those losses. Even with the ACC subsidies, Virginia Tech lost money all three years.”

  27. '04 Duke / Mar 28 2013

    “FBS bowls have huge pay outs….even the worst bowl in existence would make JMU more money than they make in a season now”

    This isn’t true. You should read the book “Death to the BCS”. It describes the finances of the bowls better than I ever could. But the basic point is that very few schools actually make money on bowl games. The pay outs from the bowl games are split amongst the other teams in the conference, with the conference itself even taking a cut. Also, schools are given a certain number of tickets and for every ticket they don’t sell the school eats the cost. Add the losses from not selling your allottment of tickets to the travel costs and hotel arrangements for the coaches, players, cheerleaders, and the band and most schools lose big bucks.

  28. Shadow / Mar 28 2013

    Are we gettin’ happy with Appy???

    From yesterday…

    “Western Kentucky denies C-USA reports, but Sun Belt eying JMU anyway”

    http://www.cyberwatchcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82&Itemid=76

    My Conference Preferences:
    1) C-USA — ODU, UNCC, Marshall, Middle Tennessee — pretty cool road trips
    2) Sun Belt — App State — Nice rivalry & road trip.
    3) MAC — Ohio — not too shabby. Others not so sure.

  29. Shadow / Mar 28 2013

    Are we gettin’ happy with Appy???

    From yesterday…

    “Western Kentucky denies C-USA reports, but Sun Belt eying JMU anyway”

    http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2013/3/27/4153740/college-conference-realignment-wku-jmu-cusa-sun-belt

  30. Joe Tom / Mar 28 2013

    ’04 Duke after your post I went to look into it some more, and it appears you’re right. So, Put up yer Dukes, my bad, in that case I think you’re probably right football and basketball probably won’t be able to maintain a profit even with a move up

  31. hi / Mar 29 2013

    Good god the MAC has a lot of directional schools. It’s a great, though mixed, academic conference though. I truly hope they cut non-revenue sports instead of adding non-revenue sports if they do indeed make this move.

  32. SP 1980 / Mar 29 2013

    Football: Just dreaming…

    North:
    Marshall
    JMU
    Delaware
    Villanova
    Towson
    New Hampshire

    South:
    UR
    WM
    ODU
    App State
    Georgia Southern
    ECU

    Conference title game played at ECU

  33. Uncle Ron / Mar 29 2013

    I am as interested in conference realignment doomsday scenarios as anyone, but when are we going to see the “Road Trip to Dayton” fluff piece?

  34. Grayster / Mar 31 2013

    Joe Tom: I believe Central Florida was also in the MAC for a few years. They moved out to the CUSA eventually. But otherwise, the MAC is incredibly stable. But I think that is because no one wants small schools from the north.

    My short term ideal would be for the MAC to kick Eastern Mich out and add JMU and Delaware. ECU is pure dead weight, and JMU and Delaware would help them spread out a bit to make a really good conference.

    However, I believe the Sunbelt is going to happen. With the new teams, I think that is a big step up from what the CAA has become. A division of App State, Geo State, Troy, South Alabama, Geo Southern, and JMU would be pretty good, IMO.

  35. Chado / Apr 19 2013

    Sun Belt puts out the Flames — JMU to Sun Belt???

    http://www.libertyflamesnation.com/2013/04/realignment-update-sun-belt-forgot-to.html

    JMU to Conference USA???

    http://www.sunherald.com/2013/04/10/4585278/c-usa-could-go-to-16-members-who.html

    WHAT are we doing? WHERE are we going?

    The Saga of the BOURNE COMPLACENCY continues!!!

    WHEN will it end??????

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  3. JMU May Be Leaving The CAA Too | Mr. Irrelevant, a D.C. Sports Blog by the Brothers Mottram
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