JMU Joins Sun Belt

Image courtesy of the Sun Belt Conference

Staff report

JMU is joining the Sun Belt.

The university received state approval to move to FBS, and the Dukes plan to accept an invitation to the Sun Belt.

It’s finally official!

What will the football conference look like?

JMU will join what could be one of the best Group of Five conferences moving forward. The league currently has two teams (Coastal Carolina and Louisiana) in the top 25 of the AP poll, and a third team (Appalachian State) receiving votes.

Georgia Southern just added former USC head coach Clay Helton as its new head coach. Marshall and Old Dominion give JMU regional rivals.

JMU’s likely division, includes several teams likely to intrigue JMU fans on a regular basis.

East

  • JMU
  • Old Dominion
  • Marshall
  • Appalachian State
  • Georgia Southern
  • Georgia State
  • Coastal Carolina

West

  • Troy
  • Louisiana
  • Texas State
  • Southern Miss
  • Arkansas State
  • Louisiana Monroe
  • South Alabama

Benefits to JMU

JMU couldn’t afford to spend as much as it does on athletics (approximately $60 million) and stay in the FCS. It wasn’t sustainable.

The spending is now more justified, especially when it comes to the university’s “front porch” argument. Athletic Director Jeff Bourne often preaches that the athletic department is the university’s front porch, meaning that people like prospective students and families often come across the athletic department first when learning about JMU.

Whether it’s softball’s NCAA run or the football’s team success (national championships, College GameDay appearances), families may find out about JMU through sports. That positive exposure can lead to an increase of applications to the university.

Positive exposure can also drum up school spirit in alumni in donors, as watching the softball team succeed may spark them to donate back to their alma mater.

Essentially, a strong athletic program can help the school in a number of ways.

The Sun Belt better helps JMU achieve those goals compared to the CAA.

Football games against Richmond, Delaware and William & Mary are losing luster. Part of that is that JMU has pulled ahead of those teams. Another aspect is that those fanbases are borderline nonexistent.

JMU fans can fill half the stadium when the Dukes play at Richmond. That won’t happen at Appalachian State. It will be a true road environment against a fanbase that cares about the result.

The media deal is also head and shoulders better in the Sun Belt than the CAA. The Dukes can be seen on ESPN’s family of networks/streaming services, rather than FloSports and occasionally NBC Sports Washington. The revenue from the Sun Belt media deal is also impactful.

From competition across sports to national exposure, the Sun Belt offers more.

When it comes to Olympic sports, the Sun Belt expects to offer men’s soccer thanks to some of its new additions. There’s potential for that league to be one of the more competitive men’s soccer conferences in the nation.

A few programs (field hockey, lacrosse, swimming and diving) will need to find conference homes.

As for JMU’s transition, the Dukes are expected to start their transition on July 1, 2022. Our understanding is the football program will be an FCS independent, or something similar, in 2022. In 2023, the football program will join the Sun Belt but be ineligible for bowl games. In 2024, JMU will be a full FBS member.

Shane Mettlen added additional details about the Dukes’ overall transition.

One comment

  1. Here in Hampton Roads I have watched Old Dominion go off the cliff when they left the CAA. Having losing seasons, playing sports in God Knows Where, and no real rivalry is a bummer. Also frittering away 1.25 Million Dollars to say good bye to the CAA is not chump change. I bet most every ODU fan wishes they were back in the FCS.

    Like

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