Image courtesy of Sun Belt
By Bennett Conlin
JMU is joining the Sun Belt!
We knew that, but the Dukes are joining sooner that some might’ve thought, especially when it comes to the football team. JMU football plans to make a one-year transition from the FCS to the FBS, playing an eight-game Sun Belt conference schedule in 2022 despite not being eligible to play in the Sun Belt championship game or a bowl game.
Oh my god, so what’s the schedule??
Well, we have to wait a bit longer for that. Keith Gill, the Sun Belt commissioner, expects the Sun Belt to announce its football schedule on March 1. There’s still some uncertainty about whether the three CUSA additions (Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss) will join the league in 2022 or for the 2023 football season. That certainly impacts the potential schedule.
We do know, however, that JMU will open the season at home against Middle Tennessee State. The Dukes reportedly paid $700,000 to put the Blue Raiders on the schedule, ensuring the fifth FBS home game needed to qualify JMU as an FBS team in 2022.
JMU will also host Norfolk State on Sept. 10, and the Dukes travel to Louisville to face an ACC team on Nov. 5.
The final eight games — JMU will play an eight-game conference slate — are TBD as to when and where the Dukes will play some of their Sun Belt foes.
So … JMU will go 11-0?
I like JMU’s roster entering 2022, as the Dukes added impactful pieces at just about every position on the roster. They were active in the transfer portal, which should pay off come September when several former FBS players take the field for a full slate of FBS games.
It’s also critical to note that the Sun Belt is a top-tier Group of 5 league. Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, and Louisiana likely would’ve defeated the Dukes in 2021. Several other Sun Belt schools are solid and capable of beating JMU.
CAA teams needed everything to go right to defeat JMU in recent seasons, but that won’t be the case for SBC foes.
While it’s a low bar, a 6-5 season would be respectable in 2022. Temper expectations JMU fans, as the Sun Belt isn’t a walk in the park. Seeing the schedule will yield better insight into the potential 2022 record, but for now, I’d be pleased to see JMU finish above .500 next season.
What’s happening to FH, Lax, and S&D?
That’s to be determined. It’s expected that the Sun Belt will eventually reinstate men’s soccer, giving a home to JMU’s men’s soccer program.
Field hockey, lacrosse, and swimming and diving will need new homes, as the Sun Belt doesn’t sponsor those sports. The Dukes are one of the CAA’s top swimming and diving programs, and both field hockey and lacrosse have won national titles.
Die-hard JMU fans have a rooting interest in these programs, especially given the recent success of the lacrosse team. There’s some intrigue into where these programs will eventually land.
What sports benefit from the Sun Belt move?
Most of them will see increased competition in the Sun Belt. Obviously football benefits tremendously from potential national exposure and games against regional rival.
The Sun Belt is also a dynamic softball conference, and that’ll benefit JMU immediately. The SBC could certainly be a top-5 softball conference nationally. Baseball should also see a boost from SBC play.
I’ve seen a couple comments about the Sun Belt being a “mini SEC,” and it’s not the worst comparison. It’s a deep league with strong southern ties and teams in the conference are competitive in a variety of sports.
The Sun Belt isn’t the strongest basketball conference, however, and it figures to be comparable to the CAA in that regard. A conference tournament victory is likely needed for a spot to the Big Dance.
When can I cancel FloSports?
Since it’s moving leagues in July, JMU will essentially receive the full Sun Belt experience. That means games airing or streaming on the ESPN family of networks. This is also beneficial for sports like basketball, baseball, and softball, which could stream on ESPN+ instead of FloSports. ESPN+ is more affordable and offers a significantly better package of games and shows.
If you haven’t canceled FloSports yet, you can cancel when JMU’s athletic season ends and never look back. If a spring sport makes a deep postseason run, you can probably cancel ahead of the NCAA Tournament, which should air on other networks or streaming services.
FloSports will be out of our lives soon. Sunnier days are ahead.