HARRISONBURG – Armed with the findings of an independent study, James Madison University athletic officials have begun a campaign to inform campus groups and other members of the university community of what they view as the potential benefits of moving the school’s football program from the FCS level up to the FBS.
JMU released the Carr Sports Consulting report Friday afternoon, reviewing the school’s current position as an FCS school and its options for the future, including a potential move to FBS. The report does not make any recommendations as to whether or not JMU, which currently is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, should make the jump to FBS.
“We’re not interested potentially at looking at a move for the sake of making a move,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said Friday, after the school’s Board of Visitors meeting adjourned. “Wherever we go, we want to maintain our standard of excellence. And we want to be able to compete at a high level.”
Bourne and JMU vice president for finance Charlie King both said the school does not have an invitation to join an FBS league at the moment.
According to the report, which is available on the school's website, the earliest date JMU could apply for FBS reclassification would be June 1, 2014, and then would follow a two-year reclassification plan.
Bourne and King said the report analyzes both the cost of moving to FBS, a move they said would generate more revenue for the department, and the price of staying at the FCS level.
The report projects that JMU would be able to pay more of its athletic expenses (between 25.2 and 27.3 percent) with a move to FBS, than it would staying at the FCS level (19 percent by remaining in the CAA).
According to the report, a move to the FBS level would increase revenue between $4.4 and $5.6 million over projections staying at FCS, by the fiscal year 2019. Of course, costs would go up too. The report estimates expenses would grow between $6 and $6.4 million by 2019 with a move to FBS.
Bourne and King said they were both surprised to learn from the report that a move to FBS football would not require any changes in the current configuration of scholarships in the athletics program to remain in compliance with Title IX.
The report is part of an overall strategic plan commissioned by JMU from Carr Sports on April 11, 2013. The total cost of the plan is $79,000 and it is being paid for by the JMU Foundation, not school funds.
The Dukes can’t move up to the highest level of college football without first finding a conference home. Conference USA, the league Old Dominion plays in, appears to be the most attractive to JMU, but the league would need to either lose a current team or add a second expansion team to make the numbers work.
The Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences could also be options. The Sun Belt has expressed interest in adding JMU.
Both Bourne and King confirmed the school does not currently hold an invitation from any FBS league.
Beginning with Friday’s release and continuing with meetings with various university groups, school officials hope to use the report to demonstrate a move to FBS could be financially viable.
“We’ve got a plan that we’re going to start meeting with a number of groups, alumni, Duke Club members, we’re meeting with the faculty on Oct. 17, employee advisory committee,” King said. “We’re going to reach out to people.”
Bourne said he was scheduled to meet with the parents council Saturday morning, before JMU’s sold-out family weekend game against Albany.
Professor David McGraw, the speaker of the faculty senate, said the senate would be holding a special meeting on Oct. 17 to discuss the report.
“This issue of a potential move to FBS football is one that has a lot of the faculty buzzing,” McGraw said in an e-mail this week. “I am trying to keep an open mind and hear all of the evidence before making up my mind, and I have been trying to convince the Faculty Senate to do the same.”
McGraw, who was out of town at a conference and could not attend Friday’s board meeting, said it was premature to attempt to gauge the faculty’s opinion on a potential move, but that he will be looking for the report to answer one major question. How much tuition money would be used for athletics.
“Personally, my position is that when we tell a student they have to pay tuition and fees here at JMU in order to get a quality education, I'm concerned about how much of that money is being siphoned off for athletics,” McGraw said. “While I don't know nearly enough about the costs and benefits of a move to FBS, my primary concern is that JMU keep its focus on academic quality.”