JMU’s move to FBS, Sun Belt approved by Va. General Assembly

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It was the last hurdle JMU needed to clear before moving up.

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — JMU’s long awaited transition to FBS football was finally greenlighted by the Virginia General Assembly’s Intercollegiate Athletics Review Commission on Friday morning, clearing the way for the Dukes’ move to the Sun Belt Conference.

JMU officials, as well as ODU President Brian Hemphill, spoke in front of the commission on Friday morning advocating for the jump.

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JMU President Jonathan Alger spoke about how JMU’s been building toward this moment and that now is the “right time and right opportunity.” The Dukes plan to start the transition to FBS on July 1, 2022.

The commission’s vote was the last hurdle JMU needed to clear before it could leave for college football’s premier division. State law requires the General Assembly to sign off before four-year colleges change from one level to another, and state officials wanted to make sure JMU was ready financially.

JMU Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance Charlie King assured state leaders that JMU had done its due diligence (schools officials had been gearing up for this moment for years) and was ready to make the transition. While JMU’s reliance on student fees will be reduced in FBS, King said JMU will see other revenue streams in its projected media deal (expected to be $2.5 million per year), increased donations and other financial benefits from FBS. He said currently JMU loses about $600,000 during each deep FCS playoff run.

So what’s next? We’re just waiting on an official announcement from JMU and the Sun Belt. This weekend is homecoming at JMU, so expect it to come in the next day or so.

The move from FCS and the Colonial Athletic Association is widely viewed as a major win for JMU, an elite FCS program that’s been waiting for the right opportunity to move up.

With this latest round of conference realignment (starting with Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC), the Sun Belt presented a best-case scenario for JMU and other schools, with regional rivalries against Old Dominion, Appalachian State, Marshall, Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. That projected eastern division is expected to be one of the toughest in college football, and give the Dukes an opportunity for exciting and competitive games weekly during the regular season. And App State, Marshall, Louisiana and Coastal Carolina have all been inside the AP Top 25 in the past few seasons. Coastal (No. 21) and Louisiana (No. 24 are currently ranked), and with its facilities and strong football history there’s no doubt JMU could reach those heights and beyond.

The Sun Belt’s games are also easily found across the board on ESPN’s channels and streaming services, with games regularly on primetime on Wednesdays and Thursdays, giving schools lots of exposure. The ESPN deal is expected to be around $2 million per school.

The jump isn’t just about football though. The Sun Belt is also expected to benefit pretty much all of JMU’s teams, especially softball and men’s soccer.

JMU’s softball team reached the Women’s College World Series semifinals this year and four current Sun Belt teams also made the NCAA playoffs, including fellow mid-major powerhouse Louisiana.

The Sun Belt hasn’t had men’s soccer, but is starting it up with the new additions of Marshall, the reigning NCAA champion, and JMU, which has been a consistent top 25 team for several years now with an NCAA Elite 8 appearance. They’re looking to bring in Kentucky, South Carolina and others to create what could be the premier conference in the NCAA.

JMU would still need to find homes for field hockey and women’s lacrosse (both previous Division I national champions) and women’s swimming & diving, but it appears they’ll find spots in the American Conference, etc.

JMU would be the fourth team to move to the Sun Belt in this round of realignment. Conference USA members Old Dominion, Marshall and Southern Mississippi have accepted invites in recent weeks.

Meanwhile JMU’s athletes are dealing with the fallout of leaving the CAA. The conference this week announced JMU wouldn’t be able to compete in conference championships if they do leave, due to a two-decade old bylaw that the league’s presidents enforced. The decision has led to criticism across the board from JMU athletes and coaches to national media figures such as Jay Bilas and Scott Van Pelt.

Look for more updates coming up.

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