Oct 26 / jmusport

Guest Post: What Can We Learn from Other FBS Jumpers?

Shrowder won last week’s prediction contest. Here he takes a look at a former FCS school that recently made the jump to FBS and wonders if it was worth it. 

We’re in the middle of one of the best seasons in JMU football history. The Dukes are 7-0, have the longest win streak in Division I dating back to last season, and are poised to defend their national title as the number one seed in next month’s FCS Championship Playoffs. There is not much I can say about this team that hasn’t already been said by Rob and Todd and others. So I want to take my guest post in a different direction and talk about JMU fans’ favorite pastime: the great FBS debate.

But instead of advocating for one side or the other, I want to take a more “empirical” look at the options. You see, as the FBS vs. FCS debate has raged over the past few years, most of the arguments have been theoretical. Without actually competing at the FBS level, it’s hard to know exactly how the program and its success would be affected by the jump.  But a school with a similar profile to JMU recently moved from FCS to FBS, and their journey gives us a pretty good idea of what life would be like in the FBS, and can be useful in framing the discussion moving forward. I’m speaking, of course, of Appalachian State.

The Mountaineers were a very similar program to the Dukes prior to joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. As another medium-sized state school tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, App State achieved sustained success at the FCS level, including three national championships in a row between 2005 and 2007. So even though the Dukes have not won three titles in a row, we are still in a pretty similar situation to where App State was when they made the jump.

Since joining the Sun Belt, the Mountaineers have certainly held their own against established FBS programs. In their first three seasons at the FBS level, they have gone a combined 28-10, including 2-0 in bowl games. They have played against college football powerhouses such as Tennessee, Miami, Clemson, and Michigan. As part of the Sun Belt Conference’s TV deal, all of their conference games are carried nationally on the ESPN platform. However, they play in relative obscurity. At the beginning of each season, there is an approximately 0% chance they will have the opportunity to play for the national title no matter how well they do in the regular season. While the Sun Belt has successfully inserted itself into the wider college football conversation (#FunBelt), the conference is more or less seen as a fun sideshow than an actual player in FBS.

Contrast that situation with the current standard bearer in FCS, North Dakota State. If JMU ultimately decides to stay in the FCS, the Bison’s consistent run of success would be what fans and the school would expect out of the team. Last season notwithstanding, NDSU has dominated the FCS level over the past decade. Since 2014, NDSU has gone 40-5 including two national titles and two wins over FBS Power 5 schools (Iowa State and Iowa). While they do not play at the sport’s highest level, they are widely respected across college football as dominating their level the same way Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater are respected for their run of dominance in Division III. But the fact of the matter remains that they do not play at the sport’s highest level, and while respect is good, there will always be the question of how well that success could translate to FBS.

The state of college football is constantly in flux, so it is only a matter of time before JMU starts flirting with the possibility of making a move again. Fortunately for us, other schools have already made decisions in both directions, and we can learn a lot from them about what to expect from either decision. Every year App State plays big time programs and has a majority of its games carried on ESPN, but has no shot of competing for a national title. North Dakota State starts every year expecting to make it to Frisco and has earned national respect and exposure, but will never really test itself against the sport’s highest level of competition.

I’m personally on the fence about a potential move, but I think that looking at these two programs gives us a good idea of what to expect in either direction.


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  1. Drake / Oct 26 2017

    Your thoughts are similar to mine. I enjoy seeing JMU dominate and be apart of the national FCS conversation while getting some national media love along the way. The biggest gripe I have with FBS is the power contained by the P5 conferences. No other schools outside of those get any glances when it comes to playoff hopes. Usually, there’s that one school every year who remains undefeated but is ranked in the 20s and given zero respect. It’s the opposite in basketball where we love cinderella’s and every year there’s a “small” team that breaks through. That’s why I love the FCS playoff bracket. It’s fun, gives teams a chance, and you do have teams like 04 JMU and YSU last year that can go on the road every week and make it all the way. I’m sure FCS takes money in to account with things, but with FBS, it’s all about the money and ratings when it comes to the final 4.

  2. Bryan / Oct 26 2017

    I don’t think this analysis dives into what is actually important. For instance, are profits for football at App St and for sports at the school in general up or down? How is attendance? What Big 5 teams have they been able to get to come to their school?

    App State has a good record since joining the Belt. And yes, until they probably get out of the Sun Belt conference they will have no chance ever at a good bowl.

    But the last two years have seen them bring in two solid ACC schools (Miami in 16 and Wake Forest in 17) for out of conference games.

    All of this is a longwinded way of saying that JMU should look at the formers FCS schools and look at what has worked and what hasn’t. Records are a part of that. But not everything. And probably not the biggest thing.

    Also, and possibly most importantly, JMU really needs to do a better job of getting at least decent FCS teams to come to Harrisonburg for OOC games. I think the last time they had anyone meaningful for an OOC game was App State way back when.

  3. Shawn / Oct 26 2017

    I like the idea of being dominant at the FCS level. It’s fun to watch JMU advance in the FCS playoffs and having a shot at winning the FCS National Championship. I think for now, we should stay in the FCS and continue to be dominant. Maybe, like mentioned before, JMU should schedule stronger FCS/FBS out-of-conference games for the three early season games. That would be exciting! But definitely no lower division (cake walk) games.

  4. ShadyP / Oct 26 2017

    I hear this OOC scheduling discussion from time to time and I find it kind of curious. So JMU typically has 3 OOC games on their schedule……one that is needed is an FBS money game……which while fun is not a game we will typically win. Then we schedule 2 other home games so we will get to 6 home games in the schedule. These games are frequently scheduled several years in advance and while on paper they ‘should’ be wins, you never really know how good say a Lehigh maybe…..they could be the conference champ from a league that also gets an auto-bid.

    The purpose IMO opinion of scheduling as long as JMU is an FCS team should be focused on doing so in a manner to best setup JMU for the playoffs and that seems to me what JMU tries to do. Knowing you are gonna be playing 4-5 ranked teams each season during CAA conference play it makes perfect sense for JMU to setup a schedule where JMU can typically be 2-1 min going into conference play with some time to play backups and healup after playing the payday, FBS game.

    Now if JMU wanted to scrap the FBS game (bad idea, losing that $$$) to play some other FCS school of higher stature (which would most likely be a home-home contract) it would need to be driving/bus distance to be cost effective. It would be a bad decision for JMU to play FBS and high-end FCS and be looking 1-2 going into CAA play.

    The goal of JMU is to make the playoffs and in doing so setup for a deep run with home playoff games, and win championships.. I would much rather being playing at home in December than have some perceived ‘sexy’ opponent in September and be on the road for the playoffs.

    If JMU played in the BigSouth sure one of these games might be needed to enhance their body of work……but it is simply not need in the CAA.

  5. Drake / Oct 27 2017

    A lot has been said recently about JMU ranking in the top half of all division 1 schools when it comes to football game attendance. I think Curt Dudley or Dr. Warner had posted about JMU also ranking in the top in regards to profit from our program. Does anyone know where to find these stats?

  6. Shrowder / Oct 27 2017

    @Bryan – Agreed, there is a lot more to the decision than just win-loss record. How much is the potential TV deal worth? How would it affect the other programs in the athletic department?

    One thing I wanted to mention but couldn’t squeeze it in: I think it’s unlikely, but the MAC could be a potential destination (geographically close, ESPN broadcast deal). If you look at the MAC schedule this year, there is only one Saturday game after October 21. All other games (so essentially half of the conference games) are on week nights. And while the occasional Thursday night game can be exciting and unique, I can’t imagine fans who come in from out of town for games would be happy about half of the games taking place on weeknights. So that’s just one example of many factors that would play into the decision.

  7. Bryan / Oct 31 2017

    At the same time, a loss against an iffy foe like Towson or Delaware could derail a season. This season is different because a win against an FBS school trumps more or less everything; but in a common year; one loss could determine home field throughout or having to go on the road during the playoffs. Having a win against a school like App St in the regular season or NDSU or one of the other powerhouses keeps people coming back, keeps fans in the stands, and also works far more as a statement game.

    Yeah I get that too. It would definitely make it more difficult for DC Dukes or even Richmond or Charlottesville Dukes to come down for games. Is that a MAC wide directive? I see the understanding in it (more primetime games) but also think it would be detrimental for a school like us.

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