JMU Football Ineligible for New Year’s Six Bowl, CFP Rankings This Season

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

JMU football can’t play in a New Year’s Six Bowl this season, a spokesperson with the College Football Playoff told JMU Sports News on Sunday. 

“Inclusion in the College Football Playoff rankings is based on NCAA postseason eligibility,” Brett Daniels, the College Football Playoff’s senior director of communications and branding, said in a statement. “As a part of the transition from FCS to FBS, NCAA bylaws require programs to wait two years before being eligible for postseason play. Because of this, James Madison will not be considered for the CFP rankings this season or a place in a New Year’s Six bowl game.”

As a result, it’s probably time for JMU fans to *cue the Nick Saban voice* quit askin’ the Sun Belt to make the Dukes eligible for the league title game this season. 

JMU’s ineligibility for the NY6 means there’s no reason for the Sun Belt to make JMU eligible for its title game, which it has the power to do. There’s no potential financial benefit – making a New Year’s Six Bowl earns a conference $4 million to split among its members – from letting JMU play in the conference title game because it can’t then play in the NY6. 

The Sun Belt needs to do what’s best for the entire conference, and in this case, it’s going to benefit the league to have a champion with guaranteed postseason access.

NCAA rules allow for transitioning teams in their second transition season to make a bowl game if not enough teams qualify – teams qualify for bowls by going .500 or better – for the 82 open bowl slots. JMU can still make a bowl game, if there are open spots. That bowl game just won’t be a New Year’s Six game. 

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New Year’s Six Ineligibility 

The topic of NY6 eligibility popped up in recent weeks, as the Dukes remained unbeaten. Fans began to wonder about the hypothetical of, “If JMU football goes 12-0, could the Sun Belt allow the Dukes to play in the league championship game?” 

The logic behind the question was that the Sun Belt wouldn’t want to give up on a possible $4 million payday from a NY6 appearance, and the Dukes (7-0, 4-0 SBC) are clearly the Sun Belt team currently best positioned to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl. 

Importantly, however, the Group of Five’s automatic berth into a NY6 game goes to the highest ranked Group of Five conference champion

JMU would need to not only win the Sun Belt title game to have a chance to make a NY6 bowl, but they’d also then need to be ranked higher than all other Group of Five conference champions to earn a NY6 nod. This ranking needs to come from the College Football Playoff committee, not the AP Poll voters.

That begged the very important but unanswered question: Is JMU, which is postseason ineligible due to NCAA transition rules (with the caveat that it can make a bowl game if not enough 6-6 teams qualify for bowls), even allowed to be ranked by the College Football Playoff committee? 

Daniels’ answer finally tells us that NO, a postseason ineligible team cannot be ranked by the CFP committee. Therefore, the Dukes are out of luck when it comes to finding a potential loophole to compete in the Sun Belt title game and a New Year’s Six bowl in Year 2 of their FBS transition. 

Can JMU make a bowl game? 

As mentioned earlier, yes! 

JMU already has seven wins this season, making the Dukes “bowl eligible” IF not enough other teams qualify for the open 82 bowl game slots. At this point, JMU’s bowl fate is mostly in the hands of other programs. 

While the Dukes aren’t guaranteed a bowl game, it is possible. That could lead to a fun December matchup for JMU. 

An interesting quirk to the Dukes’ bowl hopes is that JMU will face multiple teams (4-3 Old Dominion, 3-4 Appalachian State, and 4-3 Coastal Carolina) the rest of the season on the fringe of bowl eligibility. JMU taking care of business down the stretch could theoretically be the difference between a couple teams making a bowl or missing a bowl, essentially giving JMU a clearer path to a bowl game. 

JMU will be eligible for the Sun Belt Championship and bowl games without restrictions for the 2024 season and beyond. The College Football Playoff is also scheduled to expand to 12 teams in 2024, with the Group of Five expected to have automatic access into the 12-team field.

Everybody take a breath 

The only path forward for JMU to make a New Year’s Six Bowl is if the NCAA reverses course on its waiver decision and decides to make the Dukes eligible for postseason play in 2023. 

That’s not happening, even after Virginia’s Attorney General asked the NCAA to reconsider its waiver decision in recent weeks. 

As JMU fans, it’s probably time to ease up on the bowl game chatter. The Dukes still might make a bowl game, but there’s not a ton of use in screaming at the NCAA or asking high-ranking politicians to sue the NCAA for the Dukes’ immediate bowl eligibility. 

Fans need to make sure they see the forest from the trees. It’s ridiculous that the NCAA didn’t approve JMU’s waiver given the program’s FBS readiness, and it stinks that JMU’s seniors won’t have an opportunity to compete in a New Year’s Six game, but the Dukes have benefited tremendously from the FBS move. 

They’re in the AP Top 25 for the second consecutive season. That’s not happening at the FCS level. 

The Dukes are facing increased competition, as they beat UVA earlier this year and the SBC East is a Group of Five gauntlet. UVA wouldn’t have even scheduled JMU if the Dukes were still an FCS team – there’s a reason the teams went 40 years without playing. 

JMU is also playing most of its games on national TV platforms, a huge reward for quality play this season. The Dukes are gaining notable media coverage from national outlets and even increased coverage from regional outlets like the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That’s great for the players, as well as the fans. 

The benefits of the move are overwhelming. 

It’s disappointing for the players and coaches to lose a potential NY6 opportunity, but the FBS move has been 99% perfect. Instead of complaining about the NCAA’s rules that might cost JMU 1-2 games later this season, fans should focus on what’s shaping up to be a historically great JMU team. 

No Division I JMU team has ever finished a season without a loss. Achieving that feat matters, even without guaranteed postseason play. 

And make no mistake, fans can root however they please. If you want to angrily tweet at the NCAA the rest of the season, I can’t stop you.

For me, though, with an NY6 loophole squashed, I’m going to focus on the positives in the final five weeks of the season. I’ll focus on the potential enjoyment of beating an in-state rival Saturday, followed by a huge divisional showdown with Georgia State the following week. 

JMU ends the year with UConn, App State, and Coastal Carolina. That three-game stretch is arguably more intriguing than just about any FCS playoff run in recent memory. 

There’s a cost to moving from the FCS to the FBS. I don’t understand why the Dukes didn’t receive a waiver to compete in the postseason this year, but any temporary cost from the transition will be well worth it in the long run.

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